We were almost out of nutmeg, so I put it on the grocery list.
But finding whole nutmegs here isn’t always easy. I had to go to three different grocery stores before I found one that carried them.
It’s only fair, I suppose, that nutmeg is hard to find here. It grows only in the tropics, and whole nutmegs don’t fit well into the little commercial spice jars.
But there’s not a lot of point in buying ground nutmeg, as the flavour dissipates quickly once it’s ground.
My husband and I were lucky enough to have a friend who did her Peace Corps service in Grenada, where 20 percent of the world’s nutmeg is produced. That’s 20 percent of global production on an island that’s only 349 square kilometres (133 square miles) in size, with a population of about 110,000.
Naturally, we had to visit her during her service. My overwhelming impression was that the island exhaled nutmeg. There were nutmeg trees everywhere, and piles of drying nutmegs along the roadsides. The smell hung in the air and clung to my clothes. It was joined by the smell of mace (also from the nutmeg tree), cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and a wide array of tropical fruits. My memories of Grenada are intimately linked to the olfactory experience.
Since then, I can’t smell nutmeg without being transported back to a white sandy beach, with seawater as warm as bathwater, colourful flowers, and an island that moved in languid tropical time.