When we arrived at The Turmerica, Ranjini Menon cooked us dinner dressed in a stylish new saree. To top that, when we videotaped her making several recipes, she wore the traditional Kerala saree of cream with gold trim. At neither occasion, did she spill a drop on her beautiful outfits. We were in awe from the outset.
This is a woman with the celebrity stature of Oprah Winfrey in her home state of Kerala. Her genuine smile, kind eyes, and shining long black hair – along with a tasteful splash of gold jewelry – are all she needs to dazzle.
With a child psychology degree, poise, and a tremendous ability to empathize, she hosted a popular talk show that aired 500 episodes in its five-year run. The program covered a variety of topics and each time the environment came up, Ranjini felt a strong personal desire to do more than talk. “I used to say, if you only have five rupees, plant a tree. I was preaching this message but living on the eighth floor of an apartment building.”
A like-minded partner
Ranjini felt the disconnect. “I felt as a role model, I needed to walk the talk and out of that came a strong desire to buy land. My parents were not supportive but my husband Raj was.”
Rajagopal (Raj) Menon, Ranjini’s husband, has a background in performing arts management and involvement in a variety of service organizations. He loves travelling and meeting fellow travellers. He shared Ranjini’s desire to buy land but also saw a possibility for them to become tourism entrepreneurs.
The Menons weren’t merely after land. They also wanted to grow something and take care of the earth. Relatives in Wayanad convinced them to buy an 11.2-acre estate that came with a 90-year-old home. They renovated and now run a coffee plantation and homestay called The Turmerica.
“Food security is such an important issue, I wanted to go back to the villages, learn about the local knowledge and save it for future generations.” How has it gone? “We’ve learned how difficult farm life is and how much planning is necessary. We had a huge learning curve!”
Life in Wayanad
Surrounded by 300 acres of tea plantations, the Menons grow organic coffee, spices, and a vegetable garden with the help of the local tribal people they employ. Ranjini, as we experienced, is also a wonderful cook and cookery teacher. As the great-granddaughter of former ruler King Zamorin of Malabar, she has a passion for history, cooking, and preserving the culinary arts.
During our stay at The Turmerica we were able to capture a few cooking sessions with Ranjini – everything from the Royal Malabar dishes of her family to a local tribal delicacy – which we’ll share in upcoming posts. We also enjoyed the family’s daily ritual of South Indian coffee sourced from their own plantation, and freshly prepared and served with great showmanship (you’ll see what we mean in a future video clip!) by Raj. The Menon’s talented daughter Amuu even treated us to her favourite recipe for mango ice cream.
We look forward to sharing more of the life the Menons have made for themselves in our upcoming posts. Northern Kerala is still a great off-the-beaten – and eaten – track in tourism. Our pro tip for you is GO NOW before the rest of the world discovers it.
During this period of COVID-19, we are happy to offer our blog as a form of armchair travel. When it is safe to travel again, we sincerely hope you’ll venture forth and experience all these wonderful Faces, Places and Plates for yourself! – Karen and Pauli-Ann.
Huge love and thanks to Ranjini, Raj and Amuu Menon for so generously hosting, feeding and teaching us during our stay at The Turmerica in 2016. You made us feel part of your family and as wonderful as that was, the best thing about it is that you make all your guests feel this way!
Thank you also to the KTM Society and Travel XS for sponsoring our travel throughout South India in 2016.
All words and photos are our own and were not shared with the sponsors before publication.