Nutmeg has to be one of the most popular spices in the Caribbean. Just look at how often it’s employed as the essential finishing ingredient to some of the region’s favorite libations.
Christmas may not be Christmas in Trinidad & Tobago without Ponche de Creme, but the drink itself just wouldn’t be right without some grated nutmeg. Coquito, Bushwacker, Pain Killer, Gully Wash and even plain old rum punches; all benefit from a sprinkle or two of this magical spice.
The dried, powdered form of nutmeg may be the best-known throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world, but in Grenada, locals have developed a myriad of additional uses for the crop over the years. One of my favorites is Morne Délice Nutmeg Jam.
To get a better sense for how special this stuff is, you have to understand a little bit about the history of the nutmeg in Grenada.
The first thing to understand is that nutmeg trees are not native to Grenada or the West Indies. They’re actually indigenous to the Banda Islands in Indonesia. They were initially brought to the region by European planters and entrepreneurs in the late 1700’s and early-1800’s.
The second thing to understand is that nutmeg became the #1 cash crop in Grenada by a somewhat remarkable twist of fate.
The first nutmeg tree was planted in Grenada in 1843, but no serious attempts were made at challenging Indonesia for the top spot in world production of the crop until after 1851. That’s when a worm infestation devastated the Indonesian crops, opening the door for opportunistic growers in Grenada to significantly expand. Production continued to grow over the years to the point where today, this small 133 square-mile island is the second-largest producer of nutmeg on the planet.
With nutmeg having such a great impact on Grenada’s economy, it also became an integral part of the island’s culture and identity. They grow other spices here – cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper and vanilla among them – but make no mistake: they call Grenada The Spice Island for the nutmeg.
There’s even a nutmeg on the country’s flag, something we’ll delve into a bit more in a future Flags of the Caribbean post.
Okay, so you get the idea that nutmeg is now, and has been for years, a huge commercial export crop for Grenada, right? While the export markets clamored for the nutmeg seed from which the dried, powdered spice is grated, local Grenadians found that the pericarp, or yellow, fleshy outer covering, could also be used to make jams and other tasty treats.
For generations, recipes for these homemade jams were closely-guarded family secrets. Then, in the late-1960’s, a Grenadian woman named Sybil la Grenade decided to share her family’s secret with the world.
A former teacher of home economics, Le Grenade started selling her nutmeg jam, and a few other products we hope to cover later, to the local market. Like Grenada’s nutmeg industry itself, La Grenade’s side business grew quickly, eventually moving to a large and modern food processing plant under the corporate name De La Grenade Industries.
Bottles of La Grenade’s nutmeg jam, like the one pictured above, are now sold across the Caribbean, as well as in certain parts of Europe and North America. Try it on toast, English muffins, or anywhere else you would normally spread jam to enjoy a breakfast treat. The flavor is VERY sugary-sweet, with the tell-tale nutmeg spiciness remaining on your tongue long after you’re done chewing. With no preservatives, added colors or flavorings, it’s a wonderfully natural and unique taste of the imported fruit that made Grenada famous.