By Nicola Bridges
The Spice Isle of Grenada in the Caribbean West Indies is known for its tropical lushness, azure seas lapping white, palm-tree-sprinkled beaches and jagged coves — and just that, the fragrant array of spices this island paradise has been providing the world dating back to the 1600s. Its natural-grown nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, curry, cardamom, coriander, pepper, saffron and more were, literally, worth more than their weight in gold and caused wars between continents fighting to ship these island delights back to Europe.
While I spend a morning perusing the outdoor Spice Market in the capital of St. George's to load up my suitcase with bags of fresh, pungent and exotic food flavorings, I'm more attracted to the island's being the home to award-winning honey and dark chocolate made from Grenada's organic cacao bean harvest, so rich in its percentage of cocoa that even in the high-temperature humidity of the tropics it barely ever melts.
Environmental scientist Dr. Jessamine Eden calls herself an accidental bee keeper. She developed the Jessamine Eden Apiary on her eponymously named Eden Wellness Farm while restoring the 60-acre plantation property within the Greenville Vale Estate as she was embarking on a conservation project to preserve Grenada's natural plants.
"One happy summer day about 10 years ago swarms of bees started to darken the garden. The workers were running around fleeing while I was thinking 'Wow, bees, honey!'" she remembers, beaming her big, ever-present smile.
Just 15 minutes from St. George's in a verdant valley hugged by the dense, vivid green growth of the southern slopes of the Grand Etang hills, Eden Wellness Farm is an island zone with multiple climates and flowing streams and springs. Together this makes a perfect home for Grenada's native bees to produce top-grade, pure, un-adulterated organic honey from the blossoms of the vast array of large trees (including the ylang ylang that gives Chanel No. 5 its notable fragrance) and from native blooming plants as well as medicinal flowering herbs that include lemongrass and black sage.
We meander down pretty paths that weave through the garden past banana palms and along an avenue of pink poui blossom trees, their beds lush with 100-year-old lilies transplanted from Eden's grandmother's garden. She names the plants, breaking off a stem here and there to smell or chew. We take a break at a large outdoor kitchen and eat soursop fruit (a flavor combo of papaya, pineapple and banana) while a worker hacks fresh green coconuts off a tree with a machete and we drink the milk out of a small hole before scooping out the still-gelatinous coconut flesh.
Refreshed, we cut across the plantation's long grass driveway to the apiary area and step into a small observation building nestled into a wall. I watch transfixed — thankful for the glass partition — as each colony's queen bee and her army of thousands of buzzing worker bees are busy in the hives producing Eden Farm's annual 300 pounds of sweet liquid gold.
We end our personal tour in the tasting room, where honeycomb-shaped shelves display crystal decanters full of award-winning honeys from consecutive years past. Eden pours small dripping spoonfuls for us to savor, from light to dark brown with increasing intensities of sweetness and flavor. It's the perfect preamble to sampling an even darker sweetness at my next stop.
Belmont Estate, another 45 minutes from St. George's, is an authentic 17th-century plantation made up of original stone buildings and its piece de resistance — a traditional Grenadian chocolate factory turning cacao beans into some of the world's finest chocolate. Even though it's known for its high cocoa content (some of the darkest chocolate, deemed by science to have health benefits as one of nature's "good fats," contains 84%), Belmont Estate chocolate is far from bitter. Flavored with nutmeg and spices, vanilla or just plain, just a couple of Chiclet-size pieces are enough to satisfy any sweet tooth.
The beans are still dried, as they have been going back centuries, on giant trays pulled out of a low dark barn on iron tracks to dry. A staged chocolate factory museum showcases vintage cocoa butter churns and molding machines. But a modern building is where the magic happens, and today's Belmont Estate chocolate is handmade. A steel vat churns the cocoa into a dark, buttery paste before being poured into bar molds. I buy a box of square bars in brightly colored wrapping to take home for myself and family, still worried — though I needn't be — that it will melt in my case (it doesn't).
The gourmet open-air restaurant on the estate serves a curry buffet with traditional natural hot cocoa, far from the oversweet and overprocessed hot chocolate we're used to stateside. As an example of Grenada's agritourism showcasing the island's crops and farming in a learning environment, visiting kids run up a grass lane past an enclosure of tortoises to the donkey stables and the estate's goat farm.
With chocolate and honey added to my spice stash, Grenada has proven to be a delightfully delicious trip to a tropical island where the sun is hot; the ocean a refreshing respite from the humid, hanging air; and the days are long and lazy.
WHEN YOU GO
Jessamine Eden Apiary at Eden Wellness Farm: www.jessamine-eden.com
Belmont Estate: www.belmontestate.net
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Cacao beans at Belmont Estate in Grenada dry in the sunshine. Photo courtesy of Nicola Bridges.