The explosive miracle of the vivid blue sky over the small town of Bell, on the northern fringes of the Darling Downs, is always a breathtaking surprise. What makes it so amazingly blue? Is it the contrast of sometimes green, sometimes brown, against the backdrop of the Bunya Mountains, so different from the expansive plains that lie at its feet to the south?

Is it the crispness of the air up there? The concentration of sky after the chequered carpet of the flat farming plains? Or is it, perhaps, the shock of certain colourful manmade enterprises that nestle at ground level in Bell, creating an atmosphere that marks this erstwhile timber town as something special.

Take, for example, the surprising splash of rich colour that is Rusty’s Spice Market in the old town butchery in Dennis Street — first right as you drive up the hill into Bell from Dalby. It is adjacent to, and part of, the old sandstone bakery, converted into a charming dwelling cum Air BnB cum productive organic garden during the past 10 years by Lesley and Paul (aka Rusty) Bryce in the busy throes of their tree change. The story of Lesley and her first home industry, Bell Moutarde, was featured in this magazine’s Summer 2018 edition. But! There have been changes. The Bryces’ love of curry and spices won the day. Rusty’s Spice Market morphed out of their combined lifetime’s enjoyment of creating, tasting, smelling and sharing the healing food.

Says Lesley of her current consummate knowledge of all things spice (which she shares through free workshops, when not in Covid lockdown), “We lived for a time in Fiji; I learned from the Fijian Indians about the culinary, medicinal and general health value of freshly ground whole spices. In effect, I learned how to make a good curry,” she said. “Most significantly, I learned that spices ground fresh (even pepper) are not only more aromatic and tasty, but offer age old health benefits. Hence the spice trade of antiquity and ayurvedic healing which goes back thousands of years.” Lesley learned much at the feet of her Brisbane spice merchant, Richard, until he retired recently. A Fijian Indian, Richard, one of Brisbane’s first spice merchants, was blind. His prodigious knowledge of spices was honed by his acute sense of smell.

Today, this knowledge — and its attendant joys — is on offer at Rusty’s Spice Market. Lesley grinds and mixes spices to create fresh curry powders for her many customers. She boils down butter to make traditional ghee, and creates pickles, mustards and condiments to enhance the flavours. Her intimate spice workshops, held both in the rustic small space of the colourful old ex-butcher’s shop itself, or in the hall adjacent to Bell’s popular Pips n Cherries Café, are, for Lesley and the participants, about the age old joy of making food together. “Something happens when you release the aroma of freshly ground spices,” says Lesley. “It’s like walking in a rose garden. Magic just happens and the aromas linger.”

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