It was several years ago that Laurence, from Wharf Distillery, gave me some turmeric root. Before then I had only ever thought of turmeric as a dried, ground powder in a jar, although since then I have seen the root become more readily available in specialist food shops. It is a knobbly rhizome that very much resembles root ginger, which is hardly surprising as they are related.
I didn't know what to do with the bit of turmeric root that Laurence gave me so I decided to plant it. I had previously planted root ginger and, after some delay when I figured it was dead, that had grown. Indeed, it had grown very large, very quickly and buckled the flower pot it was in as it formed new root. Then, all of a sudden, it died back. It turned out this was quite normal and meant that the root was ready to harvest, which I did. A proud moment - harvesting my own homegrown root ginger.
In contrast, the turmeric root started to grow much more quickly. It soon became an attractive, slightly jungle-like house plant. And over time, it grew quite well. It had a tendency for the ends of the leaves to brown so I realised I wasn't watering it enough. Soon I was watering it every few days and it become a lush looking house plant. And it has continued to grow on my window sill ever since.
Well, it had, until this winter when it started to die back. I thought I was neglecting it so I upped the watering but it continued to die so I figured maybe I had over-watered it so I cut back and it still continued to die. So then I wondered if it was just too cold, although it had previously survived winters in the same place. Then I figured maybe the compost in the pot was just exhausted as I hadn't repotted it for years and I usually neglect to add fertiliser to my house plants.
So last weekend I decided to tip it out and see what was going on and maybe repot it in fresh compost if there was anything there that looked viable. To my surprise, I found some very healthy looking rhizomes that smelt amazing so I decided to take a harvest and to put some of the roots in fresh compost to see if they would grow again.
Although several years have past since I was first given the root, I still have no idea how I would use fresh turmeric. I'm sure that if I was into curries or other spicy food, I could probably grate it into a dish and use it that way. But I'm not. Indeed, the only reason I have turmeric in my cupboard is because I use it fairly often in chutney recipes and occasionally as an amazing yellow natural dye.
It was at this point that I decided to see if it was possible to make ground turmeric at home from fresh turmeric. A bit of Googling later and I had learnt a few things, including finding out that the die back is part of the natural process of the plant and it occurs when the rhizomes are reclaiming the nutrients from the plant. I guess in more tropical conditions this would happen as part of a short cycle over several months, in much the same way as the root ginger had, but on my cool window sill it had taken several years for the process to complete.
The next step was the wash and peel the turmeric and then I used a potato peeler to par the root into thin slices. These I laid out in my dehydrator and after just a few hours they had turned very dry and brittle. Next I put it into my handheld food processor and blitz away until it formed a powder. And there it was - 8g of homegrown turmeric powder. And it smells amazing too - so fresh and spicy.
I'm not sure how the economics of this stack up, given that I have created about 15p of turmeric powder over about 4 years but it is one of those things that amuses and interests me. First there was the "I wonder" moment when I stuck it in a pot of compost and then there was the joy of the plant growing and thriving, and finally another "I wonder" moment when I managed to create my own dried spice.
Never let economical good sense get in the way of the wonder of growing.
P.S. Should you ever try this - wear gloves!