It stands to reason, in any century, if a prized item looks like a knobby ball of dried wood, any peddler worth his salt will soon be foisting wooden knock-offs with tiny tin graters as fine fresh nutmeg kits. Thus, the good folks of the former Nutmeg State learned to enjoy varying amounts of sawdust on their favorite foods.
On the up-and-up, real nutmegs were status possessions for traveling society. They wore handsome sterling or carved ivory nutmeg graters around their necks and grated the precious real stuff onto their delicacies in restaurants. Others carried nutmegs around as some would a St. Christopher medal, while others believed nutmegs brought good luck, even popularity.
Like good cheese, when you want nutmeg at its best, you grate it fresh and resist buying the ground product in the stores. Nutmeg has been the staple of apple pie, countless desserts and sweet dishes since cooking began. For the purpose of this article, however, we are going to concentrate on savory suggestions for nutmeg and try to introduce you to some new occasions to use it.
Like all good spices, nutmeg originated in soils from halfway around the world. The Arabs originally controlled the nutmeg in the Indonesian Banda Islands starting in the 1500s. However, the Portuguese arrived in the Melaleuca islands and held on until 1621 when fierce Dutch sailors landed massacring most of the islanders and took up the teaming nutmeg trade for themselves.
Once in England, the Brits came to value nutmeg as much as gold, and they also believed it cured the plague. It was also esteemed as an aphrodisiac. Ultimately the Brits brought the coveted nutmeg with them to Grenada when they assisted their island with a sugar crop disaster. Nutmeg, the crop, thrived in the Grenada soils along with 12 other aromatic spices, some exotic woods, fruits and vegetables. The island now produces a third of the world’s nutmeg. The country’s flag even displays a nutmeg. Other producers are India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The principal import markets are Japan, the European Union, United States and India.
Nutmeg trees grow up to 30 feet, and its fruit has three layers. Every bit of the tree is used. The outermost layer of the fruit is used as a mulch. Just inside is the pericarp used to make jelly. Inside this is a red membrane which is the spice called mace. Innermost is a nut-like seed, about an inch high, and this inner seed is the nutmeg. Inside, it is fleshy, white and veined and contains a bit of oil.
To test for a nutmeg in its prime is to pierce it slightly with a needle. If you find tiny drops of oil, it’s a good one. Add freshly-grated nutmeg at the end of cooking to preserve its flavor. Store whole nutmegs in a dark, tightly sealing container and store in a cool place. It freezes well.
Medical claims for nutmeg include those of appetite stimulant, anti-inflammatory agent, nausea preventative, an anti-spasmodic, a good treatment for boils and relief for rheumatism and broken bone pain. Clinical work is being done in research for liver disease and malfunctions of the central nervous system. Nutmeg oil flavoring is found in Coca Cola, some dental products and in certain cosmetics. Nutmeg can also be a fatal hallucinogenic.
SUGGESTED USES FOR NUTMEG:
It combines well with many cheeses, and is included in soufflés and cheese sauces, egg dishes and quiches.
In soups it works with tomatoes, split pea, chicken or black beans.
It sparks up vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans, onions, eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, Swiss chard, rutabaga, spinach, squash and green salads.
It adds a unique flavor to Italian mortadella sausages, Scottish haggis, Middle Eastern lamb dishes, meatloaf and Swedish meatballs, hamburgers, duck, escargot, jerk chicken and duck.
It is often included as part of the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout.
It is indispensible in Caribbean Rum Punch.
Add it to white sauce, pasta sauces, barbecue sauce
Here are some recipes to try: