Harvest Time in the Spice Islands

22 Sep

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Ever wondered where cloves come from?

Well. They come from many places now. But in the beginning, they came only from the Moluccas, the mysterious Spice Islands, a spattering of tiny volcanic islets which spawned unimaginable riches for their rulers and sparked the European powers’ race to the East.

It’s harvest time on Pulau Ternate, once the heart of an empire that stretched as far as Papua, Sulawesi and Mindanao in the Philippines, now just one more tiny volcanic peak breaking out of the Maluku Sea. So we jumped a bike up the slopes of the Gamalama volcano at the core of the island to see the cloves being harvested near the village of Air Tege Tege.

Pink oven against yellow wall with bright blue bench: house detail, Pulau Ternate, Moluku, Indonesia.

Every village in the island, right now, is lined with cloves sun-drying on tarpaulin and thick with the piney-nutmeg-myrrh aroma of cloves. Combined with the colours of the little houses, the intense heat of the equatorial sun and the occasional waft of frangipani flowers and nutmeg, fresh and shiny in their little drying baskets, it’s an incredible sensory experience.

Cloves drying on a tarpaulin weighed down with a rock, Air Tege Tege, Pulau Ternate, Maluku

And the cloves? Well, they, like capers, are the bud of a plant — a tree, in fact, which can grow to fifty feet or more in size, and live for hundreds of years, its leaves still holding that rich tingly scent of cloves. This is how they look before they ripen.

Young clove buds, Pulau Ternate, Moluku, Indonesia

So next time I mull wine, use tiger balm or read up recipes, I’ll remember these innocent-seeming scarlet buds, and think back to the Spice Islands, where it all began. Thanks to Beth at Wanderlust and Lipstick for hosting Wanderfood Wednesdays.

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6 Responses to “Harvest Time in the Spice Islands”

  1. mish September 22, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Can almost smell them from here. Before leaving Oz I left a handful of loose cloves scattered through each room in my flat. Despite being shut up & airless for 6 months,it apparently still smells really good and is mildew free – a rarity in Qld.
    Will try & catch your Skype opening before you set off on your adventure. Are you about 6 hrs ahead?
    M xx

    • MummyT September 22, 2010 at 5:26 am #

      We’re online right now for about 20 minutes more. I think we are 8 hours ahead of GMT but we just had an internal Indonesia time change which confuses me.

  2. njdurbin September 22, 2010 at 5:51 am #

    Very cool to see what cloves look like before they’re shucked and offered for sale. Thanks for sharing! I can imagine the aroma of the village…

  3. scotttraveler September 22, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    what is that big purple block of playdouh looking stuff?

  4. nikki September 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    Love the colors. Check out jellyfish lake…sorry if I told you about this already I’ve been meaning to but couldn’t remember if I did!
    I think Z will find it quite cool. My boys did we are hoping to get to it sometime soon!

    • MummyT September 23, 2010 at 3:19 am #

      Wow. Now, we didn’t do the jellyfish lake when we were on Derawan. Regretting it, to be honest, but the cheap dive store didn’t have sufficient tanks for us to do it, and we didn’t want to charter a boat just for us. Hoping for another… Great link, too.

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