2000s Archive

Cooking Schools: Philipkutty’s Farm

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Dinner was under control, so I left Mummy’s stove and padded through the living room, sparsely furnished, like tropical houses everywhere, but gleaming with the icons of a Syrian Christian home. I crossed the veranda and slid into my flip-flops. (It took about three minutes to get used to the no-shoes-inside policy in this part of the world.) Then I followed another kingfisher into the jungly profusion that surrounds the house. By now I could easily identify curry-leaf and cinnamon trees, as well as nutmeg, vanilla, and bitter gourd. Piper nigrum vines, with their “spikes,” or clusters, of green peppercorns, are trained up almost every vertical surface. King Pepper, of course, put southwestern India on the maps of antiquity, and Cochin (Kochi), wrapped around a vast harbor an hour or so from the farm, remains an important trading hub. On my last day in India, I threaded my way through the heady confines of Bazaar Road, where tea, cashews, and spices were being unloaded from trucks and wooden-wheeled pushcarts. I was brought up short by a relay team of men hefting sacks of sun-dried black peppercorns into a dim warehouse. The knot of bystanders grew. “We are all spice persons,” said one in precise, cadenced English, and twinkled. Scientists had just learned of a rare wild pepper plant, he confided, with pungent fruit and lemon-scented leaves, in the Western Ghats. I am truly on the other side of the world, I thought. And the age of discovery isn’t over. (011-91-4829-276-529; philipkuttysfarm.com; from $220, including meals; cooking classes about $12.50 each)

What I Learned

That the uruli is the ultimate pot for cooking large quantities of curries and stir-fries.

Biggest Surprise

The Keralan bread called appam. It’s addictive.

Before You Go

You’ll want sturdy shoes for exploring. Earplugs come in handy as well, as drumming and chanting from the local Hindu temple start very early in the morning.

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