Whether it is because of the altitude, or the weather, or the soil, one cannot say, but the turmeric that grows in Wayanad is among the very best, the most fragrant and medicinal anywhere in the world!
When we bought this land a decade ago, there was turmeric growing wild in clumps all over the place. Since then, we have never had to buy the packaged turmeric from the market. Here, we give no fertilizer whatsoever to the turmeric plants as the leaves falling thickly off the jackfruit and mango trees provide both mulching as well as pure organic nourishment for the plants.
With the onset of the first summer rains, the turmeric tubers sprout up from the soil and grow into thick clumps of turmeric plants which thrive during the monsoon. The leaves are used in cooking patholi, a fragrant steamed rice cake with a sweet coconut filling.
Later, in winter, the plants start yellowing and die back. This means that the turmeric is ready to be dug up. As you dig, the smell of fresh turmeric fills the air, your nostrils open up, and your lungs eagerly take in the healing aroma.
The turmeric is kept in the shade for a few days until the whole lot is harvested.
The dangling roots are then removed and the tubers are chopped to pieces for ease of drying.
A large vessel, half full of water, is set on an open fire, and as soon as the water comes to a boil, the turmeric pieces are dropped in.
It takes 15-20 minutes for each batch to be cooked.
The hot turmeric pieces are spread out in the sun and dried for around a week until all the moisture is gone.
The dried turmeric is stored airtight where it keeps for years.
As and when needed, a kilo or two of turmeric is powdered, giving out its characteristic heavenly aroma.
Turmeric is regularly used in traditional cooking not just for its flavor and color, but also because of its anti-poisoning, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. Organic turmeric helps boost the immune system, a crying need in these trying times.
Traditionally, in India, turmeric has been rubbed on the skin, both on the face, as well as all over the body, for an hour or so before bathing, to make one’s skin glow and become smooth and beautiful, as it helps remove pimples, scars, blackheads, marks, and wrinkles. Kumkum or Sindoor is traditionally prepared by mixing turmeric with lime.
This season, as the lockdown kept us confined to our home, most of our time was spent in gardening and in preserving turmeric, arrowroot, chili, cassava, bilimbi, mango, jackfruit, and various seeds by drying them in the hot sun. Truly, a time well spent!