Even though I had every intention of going to visit our usual flower guy, and dance and cavort in some blossoms, I had the unexpected pleasure of visiting another absolute maker nestled in the back roads and fields of Tamilnadu. Yes, not one but two. In one day!
Both visits were nice, and I got to see some interesting flowers with the first one, specifically tobacco flowers, and that’s an oil we haven’t had in years. Mind you, this isn’t the tobacco that we think of, the one we can buy in great big brown leaves or little cardboard cigarette packages. This is a whole different plant, and I don’t know any of these latin binominals, sorry. This one is grown for the flowers....For the flavor industry, not for smoking. I did also manage to see some of the local big leaved variety, but again not for smoking. It’s for chewing. And now, come to think of it, I haven’t seen many, if any people smoking the whole time I’ve been in India. I imagine if I smoked I would have seen them. I’ll try to pay more attention.
We spent the morning tooling around the small lanes and tiny farms of rural Tamilnadu, meeting farmers, and snapping photos of lush and expertly cultivated little plots of frangipani, jasmine grandiflorum, okra, guava, champa, and cow fodder.
But it was in the late afternoon that, you could say, the wiggle began, the main show, the headlining act, whatever!
2 extractions were planned, and flowers procured: champaka and jasmine sambac.
Now, Champaka first. It’s Michaelia champaka and it comes in white and red (even though the red is yellow) and it’s a magnolia. It’s actually quite close to the beginning of the champaka season--I guess it’s a little late this year. Only 13 kg of flowers found their way to the farm, one small bag! It takes about 13 tons of Champaka flowers to make a kilo of oil, and that is the main reason it’s so expensive, obviously.
With such a small amount of flowers the usual extracting units were not used, and the two small drums were fllled with hexane and blossoms and left to do their magic as the Jasmine sambac truck came rumbling down the lane...with one and a half tons of sambac blossoms. That’s 9 million flowers, all picked before they opened for the night and all subsequently left on the matted reception floor to open over the next few hours.
All the sambac blossoms were bagged in burlap sacks weighing roughly 60-70 kilos each--there were about 25 of these bags and they were all lugged over to the scales, weight recorded in a ledger. Then these sacks were carried about the floor, split open at the top, and dropped with a soft thud, flowers bursting out in a creamy aromatic tongue. Once all the bags were weighed and disbursed about, they were upended and all the blossoms turned out into piles--so they all had more or less the same starting time to open. After this, the mountains of flowers were smoothed and evened, and, later, turned, so that all flowers had a chance to open in the air. 6 enormous fans buzzed and cooled.
I helped, in my small way, pushing mounds of jasmine about, trying to stay out of te way, mostly. And that was that. I lay down at the edge of the sambac sea, and my friend, the extractor, kept bringing me tea, coffee, water. I am his only little client--he makes floral absolutes for some big fragrance houses---but I am the only one who comes and plays in the blossoms. And Enfleurage is the only client to make our own products with his oils. We were both so happy about it that he took me out to dinner a the new Taj Coimbatore, and it just so happened to be my birthday! So what began as an ok but not remarkable day, turned into meeting new flowers, rolling in jasmine, and trying some really nice Indian wines.
Please excuse the haphazard posting--it's the best I could do