The nutmeg tree, a tropical evergreen, is unusual in that it produces a fruit that gives us two spices - nutmeg from the brown seed and mace from the lacy bright crimson covering of the nutmeg in its shell. Native to the Banda Islands, Indonesia, these two spices were known to the ancient world. They were found in Egyptian tombs, used to flavor foods in Asia and alcoholic drinks in Rome. Europeans have enjoyed the two spices since Arab traders introduced them in the sixth century A.D. The exaggerated desire for nutmeg and mace by the 15th century made the Moluccan or Spice Islands a major target of Portuguese explorers. Indonesia and Grenada are the world’s largest suppliers although the popularity of these spices has diminished since the 18th century. One productive acre will yield 500 pounds of nutmeg but only 75 pounds of mace which explain the difference in price.
Nutmeg has a more robust warm, sweet, musky flavor and is used in a variety of sweet and savory recipes. Its aromatic bitter sweetness adds a defining note to egg dishes and freshness to vegetables like spinach, squash and carrots, cuts the richness of cheese soufflés and infuses cakes and cookies with its perfume. Nutmeg also has affinity with dairy desserts and drinks, such as the traditional holiday eggnog. It is also used in cola drinks. Except in cakes and cookies, add nutmeg at the end of cooking, freshly grated to retain its aroma and flavor.
Mace is a bit more delicate in flavor than nutmeg and said to have a finer aroma, but they can be used interchangeably although you need a little more mace than nutmeg. Although extensively used in baked goods and desserts especially donuts, mace is primarily a meat spice used in pates, stews and even most American hot dogs. A hint of mace also enhances beverages, especially chocolate drinks. The flattened and dried pieces of mace are called “blades,” although it is more common for mace to be sold as a ground product since they are impractical to grind at home. The blades however, may be added like a bay leaf to liquids during cooking and then removed before serving.
Both nutmeg and mace aid digestion and are beneficial to the circulation; however in large doses they are narcotic and can lead to hallucinations. Both are also used in soaps, lotions, detergents, cosmetics and perfumes especially men’s fragrances. By the way, the “mace” used to deter would-be attackers is a chemical and has nothing to do with this spice!!!
Whole nutmeg is one of the few spices you can keep for ages!
Always buy it whole, keep it in an airtight jar
and grate it freshly each time you need it.
NUTMEG & MACE RECIPES:
CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHERRY COOKIES
1/2 c butter
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground mace
1 1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 c mini chocolate chips
1/2 c minced dried cherries
Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder, mace and salt; beat until smooth. Stir the oats, chocolate chips and cherries. Mixture will be very stiff. Drop 1Tbs of dough onto greased cookie sheets about an inch apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in an air-tight container.
MEXICAN WEDDING CAKES
1/2 c butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c sugar
2 c sifted flour
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 c chopped walnuts
6Tbs confectioners’ sugar
Cream butter, vanilla, and sugar. Stir in flour, nutmeg, and chopped nuts. Mix well. Form 1” balls and place on well-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to12 minutes. Remove from oven and roll in confectioners’ sugar while still warm. Store overnight before serving.
“And God said, See I have given you every herb
that yields seed which is on the face of the earth. . . “