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As far as I know, (and I am counting on you out there to set me straight), there are only three rather common plants and one unusual plant that give us two very different spices from each plant. Eventually we will cover them all, but let’s start with, nutmeg and mace. I’ll give mace its due in a future article, but mace is the somewhat lacy cover of the nut that we call nutmeg. There is one more plant that does this but in our European based cuisine we rarely use either one. I’m talking about fenugreek seeds and fenugreek leaves. Never the less, we will cover these as well, some time later.

When Columbus sailed off and found a continent we all know and love, one of the spices he was looking for was nutmeg. Native to the Spice Islands, the seed of the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) was very popular throughout the world from the 15th to the 19th century. In Colonial times in America, if you were invited to a fancy meal, even if it were being hosted by President George the First, you were expected to bring your own nutmeg, which you would grind onto the meat dish. You brought your own because it was too expensive for your host to provide. You used it on the meat of the feast in an effort to cover up the bad flavor of the usually partially rotted meat. Remember, no refrigeration back then.

Nutmeg can be used on savory things, as in the example of the meat above. It is still good used on meat, though these days the meat is usually not as rotten. But, we also love nutmeg in sweet dishes. In the Southern tradition a fruit pie just isn’t quite ready to be cooked if there isn’t some nutmeg in it. During the Holiday Season, I won’t drink my Egg Nog if there isn’t a good brisk brushing of nutmeg on top.

Nutmeg is best freshly grated. The flavor is delicately warm, spicy, and sweet.

If you don’t have nutmeg, try using mace, but be gentle as mace is much stronger.


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