Thursday, November 10, 2005

Space cadets and the Casa Luna Cooking School

She told us with incredulity and laughter of a woman from Brisbane who after having been in Bali for a substantial number of days asked whether coconuts were grown on the island (one of the most wonderful stories I have ever heard: you couldn't make it up it's so crazy), and of a "space cadet" who informed the class of having "accidentally" allowed a couple of kegs of nutmeg to fall into the blender when making milk shakes for his mates ("Yeah, that happens" she said grinningly) and fell into a state for 3 days from of which he later had no recognition (this in response to my educative observation that nutmeg is a powerful hallucinogen).

She is a great fan of the book Nathanial's Nutmeg and urged us all to read it. I was reminded with renewed amazement that certain spices were worth more than gold by weight, and that the Renaissance's correlate of the arms race of our times was the spice race of the C17th. Publishers' Weekly's review, as extracted at Amazon says:
"Exotic spices such as nutmeg, mace and cloves were treasured in the kitchens and pharmacopoeias of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Nutmeg was even believed to be an effective remedy against plague. Small wonder, then, that traders of the time ventured to the ends of the earth to secure it. With high drama and gracefully integrated research, Milton (The Riddle and the Knight) chronicles this "Spice Race," profiling the leading participants and recording the ruthless violence with which this very real trade war was conducted. The maritime powers of Europe sent companies of adventurers to the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia), each nation intent on establishing a monopoly and reaping the stupefying profits that the spice trade could produce. The book concentrates on the competition between the Dutch and English East India Companies to control the spice trade nearly 400 years ago. In 1616, Nathaniel Courthope led an English expedition to occupy the Spice Island of Run, a few square miles of land thickly forested with nutmeg trees. As Milton explains, Courthope's assertion of English ownership of Run Island was rejected by the Dutch, who besieged the island for four years before ousting the English (and killing Courthope). However, Courthope's apparent failure led to an unexpected benefit for his country when, in 1667, a treaty confirmed Holland's seizure of Run but, in exchange, validated England's seizure of another piece of land on the opposite side of the world - the island of Manhattan. Sprinkled with useful maps and illustrations, Milton's book tells an absorbing story of perilous voyages, greed and political machinations in the Age of Exploration."
The photo is lifted, with thanks, from this site where you can find out even more about nutmeg.


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