The Shade of A Nutmeg Tree – ION | Singapore
The next time you are done with Saturday retail therapy at ION, take a closer look at the gorgeous bronze sculpture outside the Giorgio Armani store. Do you know what it is? Have you ever thought about why its there? Today Orchard Road is lined with luxury shops, but 170 years ago this was a humble country lane covered with fruit orchards, pepper farms and nutmeg plantations.
Very few of us are actually familiar with “Nutmeg and Mace” and what an important role the nutmeg trade played in the history of South-East Asia and Singapore. Since the 1600’s the Dutch controlled the Moluccas, (also known as the Spice Islands in Indonesia) where nutmeg was grown. The Dutch had a monopoly on exporting this lucrative spice to Europe. The British East India Company wanted to break the monopoly and following Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819, some hundreds of trees were planted in Singapore and nutmeg mania began. By 1848 there were fifty-eight nutmeg plantations in Singapore, the majority owned by Europeans. One of them was Captain William Scott, Harbour Master and Post Master for whom Scotts Road is named after.
His house was called Hurricane House and is today the location of the Thai Embassy.
60,000 trees covered the area around Orchard, Scott’s Road and Mount Elisabeth and produced about 20,000 nuts a day! It was however a short lived craze. Due to overproduction and an outbreak of pests, many of the plantations were sold off to property developers and by the 1850’s, Orchard Road was home to hawker centres, wet markets, cemeteries and temples. In 1860 there was not one single nutmeg tree left in Singapore and many of the planters were completely ruined.
Local artist Kumari Nahappan is the woman behind ION’s signature sculpture. Her artworks explores Asian identity and nature’s forms and ‘The Nutmeg and Mace’ is truly a beautiful link between our past and present. Among the diverse symbols of consumption Singapore has to offer today, this is a reminder of how agriculture once used to be a very important industry. The nutmeg is a symbol of trade prosperity and is the only tropical plant with two flavors – from one single seed both spices of nutmeg and mace are extracted. A rare and beautiful thing. The intertwining of seed and mace also symbolizes the venture between the two companies that developed ION.
Nutmeg is prominently featured in Indonesian, Penang and Indian cookery, but during the holiday season from Halloween to New Year’s, its a star in everyone’s cooking! With its sweet and spicy aroma and flavor, it suddenly finds itself back in the kitchen and in various dishes during this time of the year. At Straits Canopy we love to add it to our baked temptations, warming soups, mulled wines and cocktails! So the next time you pass by ION, take a moment to cherish this flavorful spice. Close your eyes and forget about the shopping malls and skyscrapers. Instead imagine the green plantations, the hustle and bustle of the farmers and old merchants and how they every now and then one of them would have a well-deserved rest under the shade of a nutmeg tree.
Written by Caroline Jarl