Turmeric, 2017 ~ Ramblings of The Pepper Lady
What is new at Orchard del Sol? We harvested our first batch of ecologically and ethically produced Turmeric. No Not certified organic! Ecologically and Ethically produced. For those who know me they know I am trying to make a point. So lets see. If you are following the latest health food craze regarding Turmeric you will know that it is used as an anti-inflammatory. Oh yes don't forget the black pepper, they say it increases the bio-availability of the cur-cumin, a poly-phenol, found in turmeric. That part we like. Costa Rica Black Gold peppercorns from Orchard del Sol are of course the best. My quest to produce this magic spice began last year with my buying some powder from my good friend Wade Moore of Finca Pasi Flora, Costa Rica. He also gave me some root to plant and that is where this all began. For the past year I have been drinking a cup of turmeric tea, usually in the morning. I enjoy the flavors of the combination, black pepper and turmeric or I enjoy the turmeric by itself. Have I noticed anything out of the ordinary? Well, no. I don’t suffer from any of the maladies this concoction is to benefit. Or until now. I took a tumble and have pulled tendons and other such things one ends up with when you are older than dirt ( or so my sister says). There is one thing I must say right here and now. Wades turmeric powder was far more superior to anything I had encountered. Flavor. Aroma. Color. So, now lets take a journey and find out how this new magic bullet grows and how it is processed and, why I have made a point of stating that this turmeric and any other we produce is ecologically and ethically produced.
First we harvested the turmeric roots. Yes those orange colored things in the picture. With the sun beating down on us, Eduardo and I dug around in the dirt and excavated the turmeric roots or rhizomes as they are correctly called. It took about an hour with the two of us. Then we weighed the pail, 6.5 kgs. Wet don't forget. Next, we sat and washed and scrubbed the little rhizomes. (makes great nail dye if you like yellow). Another hour x 2. What are we at now? 4 man hours? Yes that is what I figure. Now we are ready for the processing. Anyone knowing me knows I never follow a recipe. The commercial process calls for 40 minutes of boiling. What?? I am thinking. Most of the goodness would be long gone. (this is to remove starch?? or some such thing). Also a home processing method that just skipped the boiling for the raw food enthusiasts I found for small batches like what we were about to do. Or process? I used what little I know about growth hormones in vanilla and heating those beans to kill that process so my logic told me to blanch the turmeric. No not 40 minutes either. Threw it into the boiling water and brought it to a simmer, maybe 15 minutes. Now I am satisfied there are no harmful organisms. Oh yes, now how much time do we have involved? Another hour, (this was a wood fire, getting the wood preparing the fire pit and tending the process). NOW I know that most of you are thinking YES BUT, commercially it on a much larger scale. Certainly you are right. Micro farming and processing is certainly not a comparison to commercial. Ok, forward. The best way to dry it to retain the properties I am told this wonder root has. After an hour of trying three different systems we choose a hand operated grinder. It grated the rhizomes into fine enough pieces that it would require less drying time when we decided on what drying system, sun, solar, or low oven drying, we chose. Commercially there are several methods, especially when we are talking tons of product to get dried before it goes moldy. Open air, sun drying, hot air drying. The focus is on getting it dried. So lets get back to where we are with our turmeric. Eduardo spent about 2.5 hours grating. Only managed to do about 1/3 of the 6.5 kgs we originally harvested. No we did not weigh it. I just took a guess. We will weigh it once it is dry. After seeing how much I had to deal with for drying I decided what we had was enough. Eduardo went home for lunch. I did the clean up. Well if you thought that the yellow nails were an in thing the color after the hot water treatment intensified the color. From deep, deep orange, to near burnt red. The oil from the turmeric was caked on whatever we tried to grate it with. Took me about an hour to get it all cleaned up. Wow. A learning experience. The day nearly over it was off to home I went. Onto cookie sheets and into my oven to start the drying. Keeping the temperature between 120 and 142 degrees F. was my intension. Oven on. Oven off. A light bulb was put into the over to help keep the drying temperature around 125 degrees F. Has anyone kept track of the man hours ? Yes I am keeping in mind it is research and development. Yes I also know it is such a small amount of turmeric being processed. Regardless. Micro batches of anything are expensive and usually far more superior than bulk or commercial grade production of anything. So where are with the man hours? I figure nearly 8 hours prior to the drying process. Now I have been tending this micro batch since yesterday. It is over 24 hours and I am still tending to the oven and light bulb. Cost? Please. Lots! More than I care to calculate. Now comes the ethical and ecological part. Ethically to me means a couple of things. First, labor. It is not sufficient to just say something is organic and think that the people who worked to produce the product were paid a fair salary. Organic does not state that. Second, the production methods used from growing to manufacturing the product are done with the quality of that product in the forefront. Ecologically! The cultivation and the methods used keep environment a priority. No chemicals. No artificial fertilizers. Just hard work and a labor of love. So when I see something that is organically certified, yes I know that the production methods were compliant with which ever certifying body was used. But what the price is to the consumer tells me the real story. Who was treated fairly? Did the workers get paid a sustainable wage. Did the farmer earn enough to make it worth his while? So the moral of this story is this. Please keep in mind how much of an effort it takes to get spices from the field to the table. When you look at the cost of an agricultural product stop and think of the labor and the process that went into the production of that product. Do we expect people to produce our food for nothing? I will go back to buying the turmeric powder from Wade at what ever he asks of me. As for the turmeric we harvested and processed? I am sure it will be great quality. But, No it is not for sale. Just like when people ask about my vanilla beans. I smile and look despairingly. No one would want to pay for the labor of love that it takes to produce those little black beans. And, no one will want to buy my turmeric either. So, I will just horde it all and share it with those who can appreciate the effort it takes to be a farmer. Thanks for listening. Carole Thomas, The Pepper Lady