Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser...

The car pulled up exactly on time.

Our smiling driver helped Laurel and me load our many cases of camera and sound gear into the deluxe Toyota SUV for our trip to Haritha Farms. Our new friend Gee had volunteered his car and chauffeur to drive us the 75k to this organic spice farm/homestay/cooking school. Gee is a partner with Rajeesh (aka Mango Man, Crab Dude, and He of the Swarthy Parotta) in their burgeoning herbal aphrodisiac business, a business that is perhaps the only one in which success relies on the competition not being stiff.

These two have been extraordinarily generous towards us with their time and vehicles, and we really owe them a debt of gratitude. Gee's wife Chitra is an extraordinary cook, and we plan on documenting her culinary adventures next month, after we return from Coimbatore and filming our friend Krishnagopal's Guru's 60th birthday party on the 31st and 1st. Our calendar is getting really full!

The drive to Haritha took about an hour and a half, and we were greeted by our host's mother, Mrs. Mathew, who ushered us into a cool enclave and presented us with two glasses of fresh pineapple juice. We settled into our deluxe room, which featured perhaps the nicest bathrooms I have seen yet in India, and soon our host arrived to greet us. Jacob Matthew is an extremely affable middle aged gent, whose intelligence and sophistication belie the fact that he has never really travelled outside of Kerala. He runs the operation with a keen eye towards creating an environment of quiet comfort, but in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.

After setting up my shoulder harness field pack consisting of a battery powered audio mixer, two wireless mic pack receivers, Sony headphones, extra batteries, cables, and lens tissue, I set up Laurel and Jacob with their wireless lapel mics and we headed off to the local market to do the shopping for the cooking class he was going to hold that evening. He was simply amazing. He effortlessly navigated through the busy market, seeking only the freshest of produce. All the while he was conversing with Laurel and tossing off more nuggets of information per minute than we imagined possible. There was so much good stuff I ran out of tape. Actually this was a relief, because hoisting a heavy camera while wearing a 15 pound pack in the Indian mid-day sun was not exactly relaxing.

When we returned to the farm, we were treated to a nice lunch of masala dosa with coconut chutney. He flashed a nice smile and said "If you could give me your passports and visa information now, we will get that detail out of the way". In a now familiar routine, Laurel and I looked at each other in panic. We had become so comfortable living here, that we no longer carried our passports around in our money belts anymore. They were at home. Bugger. Now it was Jacob's turn to be panicked. The new security regulations meant that if he were caught with us there staying overnight on the premises without proper documentation, he could actually face jail time. This was not exactly the note we wanted to get started on. Without boring anyone with the details, let's just say that we found a mutually agreeable way to work around our error that ensured our host would not go to prison.

The cooking demo that night was great. Jacob is a natural performer, and a pretty good cook to boot! I filmed the whole thing as he directed Laurel and three other ladies from Switzerland in the creation of 5 dishes. Sort of a fusion cuisine, and not exactly pure Keralan. Of course, the power went out in the middle of the lesson. Undaunted, we soldiered on with candles and flashlights. When the power returned, we were ready to eat! We sat down to a really nice dinner with Jacob and the Swiss ladies. Dinner conversation was an interesting hybrid of fractured English and our miserable attempts at French. Somehow, we understood each other!

Next morning, at Jacob's invitation, we got up early and were on the road a little before 7:30. He took us through fields of pineapple, stands of rubber trees that slowly dripped raw latex into little cups, soaring pepper vines, curry leaf bushes, nutmeg and mace groves, and most unusual of all, cashew trees. If you've ever wondered why cashews are expensive, its because only one nut grows at the end of a pear-like fruit. Each nut casing has to be individually separated from the fruit, and then pried out of it's casing. I think that if there are two hundred fruit on a mature tree at a given time, that would be optimistic. It's just a huge amount of labour required to get a kilo of cashews!

By this time, we were both exhausted from the constant filming and barrage of new information. Jacob actually drove us back to our house, and we had a hard time staying awake on the trip. We reviewed the footage last night, and boy, was the trip ever worth it! Needless to say, Haritha Farms is definitely a prime destination if you are ever planning a trip to Kerala.

Thank you Jacob!

1 comment:

Mark Gipson said...

Love the rubber tree picture, we have 1,000 of them growing in Northeast Thailand. They are two and a half years old so we have about another 3 or 4 years before we can start tapping them.