Editor’s Note: While we hunker down at home during the current world situation, we still dream of travel. Here’s a fun look at the origins of one of our favorite spices — nutmeg — and the beautiful destination of Grenada. Enjoy!
First, it was our 30th wedding anniversary. We wanted beautiful beaches and warm sunshine, an excuse to do nothing much but swim and read and celebrate the longevity of our marriage.
Second, there were nonstop flights from New York’s JFK airport. And, to our pleasant surprise, Grenada gave us far more than we expected.
Grenadian food – from callaloo to oil-down (much better than it sounds!) – was delightful. The rainforests were stunning, with waterfalls down every muddy path and strange, colorful birds and lizards darting among the trees.
Getting Around in Grenada
The Caribbean Sea was exactly as turquoise as it should be, and the snorkeling was endlessly fascinating. The driving was…well, challenging.
We learned at the rental car office that we would have to drive on the left. This was tricky enough, but the deep gullies on either side of the roads made errors even riskier.
Add to that the whimsical dented signs that often appeared to point either straight up or straight down and the perpetual roundabouts ready to spin us off in the wrong direction. Though the island has only one main road, we ended up lost at least once a day.
We didn’t mind, though; we often found ourselves in places we’d have missed otherwise – a rickety rum shack on the side of a mountain where we threw back shots that burned like the best kind of fire going down, a chocolate factory in the rainforest where we were encouraged to taste it several times. The people we met were generous, helpful and tremendously proud of their country. We had been nervous at being identified as Americans, clearly recalling when the U.S. had invaded Grenada in 1983. We had assumed the Grenadians resented us for the assault and the resulting deaths.
Reminiscing of Grand Anse Beach
One older gentleman we met reminisced about the landing of U.S. forces on Grand Anse beach, a wide semicircular swathe close to the capital city of St. George’s, where sunbathers in their Speedos and bikinis watched in bewilderment as amphibious assault vehicles trundled across the pristine white sand.
“Very strange,” he said, shaking his head. “We didn’t understand at all. The Americans – invading us? Why?”
Why indeed? President Reagan had sent thousands of troops to Grenada in Operation Urgent Fury.
Two coups and the murder of the premier had destabilized the country enough for the U.S. to call the attack a “rescue mission” for the 600 American medical school students studying in Grenada, and get away with it.
The U.N. condemned the action. Even Canada and Great Britain criticized it. But whether one considered the invasion a violation of international law or a necessary regime change, we were grateful that, more than 30 years later, most Grenadians didn’t seem to hold us personally responsible for it.
Swim Up Bar in Grenada
We stayed in a comfortable hotel on a small beach, with balconies overlooking the sea and a pool with a feature new to us – a swim-up bar. We have never been the type for drinks with umbrellas in them.
My drink of choice is a gin martini, my husband’s a single malt. But it was our anniversary. Who could resist? So, every evening we would swim on up and order a different rum-based, umbrella-garnished drink.
Many of the drinks were pretty nasty. Some came in colors not meant to be ingested. But on our fourth night, my husband ordered a drink called “Respect the Nutmeg.” And it was worthy of respect – even reverence.
Grenada is the world’s second-largest producer of nutmeg. And the nutmeg is a strange and wonderful fruit. One-half of the fruit is the spice we know as nutmeg, and the other half is the spice called mace.
It’s a vital part of Grenada’s export business, and even appears on the national flag. Nutmeg is the reason Grenada is known as the Island of Spice.
After tasting “Respect the Nutmeg,” there was no going back. We ordered it every night. Finally, my husband asked our bartender about the name.
“I invented the drink,” she told us proudly. She explained that Grenadian Olympic swimmer Esau Simpson had coined the phrase “Respect the nutmeg” as his motto.
Inspired by the Grenadian spirit the slogan invoked, the bartender, Crystal Connaught, created a libation with rum, nutmeg syrup, nutmeg liqueur and grapefruit soda and bestowed that name on it. The drink had won prizes in local and regional competitions.
Respect the Nutmeg perfectly reflects the island itself. Sweet, spicy and delicious, it embodies the pride that Grenadians feel for their country and its complicated past.
We’ve since tried to replicate the cocktail at home, but without that trace of sea salt, sand and a whiff of chocolate wafting down from the mountains, it’s just not the same.
However, maybe if we had a swim-up bar…
Author Bio: Diane Zahler is the author of six fantasy novels for middle-grade readers and two nonfiction books for older readers. Her 2016 novel “Baker’s Magic” was named a Nebraska Golden Sower Honor Book and won an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine. Her newest book, “The Marvelwood Magicians,” published in 2017, has been nominated for a Rhode Island Children’s Book Award. She writes educational materials for grades K-12 and has published travel essays in the online magazine Roads and Kingdoms.