Found on the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, a tropical fruit from the myristica fragrans tree produced two spices. Uniquely this fruit, when it ripened or matured, would split open displaying a seed that was also encased in a bright red extra seed-covering or aril. The aril is remove from the seed, flattened out, and then set aside to dry producing golden colored ‘blades’ known as the spice mace. The seed however, is set out in the sun to dry for up to eight weeks, until the kernel or nut on the inside rattles. When that shell is cracked, the kernel on the inside is the spice we commonly known as nutmeg.
These spices became extremely popular during the 16th and 17th century. So much so that nations such as the Dutch, French and English aggressively fought to gain control and monopolize the native trees of the ‘Spices Islands’. However, what made these spices such a hot commodity?
One reason was that these evergreen trees when mature, could produce up to 2,000 nutmegs per year from a single tree. There wasn’t a specific harvest season because the fruit from the trees ripened all year round. So, harvesters had a steady income. Specifically, what made the spice mace so precious was that is was used as a meat preservative, but also thought to be a cure for the plague at that time. Nutmeg also had its medicinal purposes; from aiding persons suffering from digestive issues, vomiting and nausea, improving appetite and reducing flatulence. Go figure!
Modern day familiarity with nutmeg is that it is ground, and then added to sweet or spicy dishes resulting in a fragrant, and at times, pungent aroma. But chefs, and culinary authors alike are suggesting a variety of other uses for nutmeg. Some of these include combining it with cheeses and sauces, or to flavor sausages or lamb dishes. Mace, on the other hand offers a much lighter flavor, especially if you feel that nutmeg may be a bit overwhelming for you. Whether you use the blades, or use ground mace, it’s perfect for stews, curries, or similar Indian cuisine dishes. Just remember to remove the blades, as they are not edible.
Every holiday season, my favorite thing I’ve learned to make from my Belizean parents is homemade eggnog that’s called Rum PoPo. Try the recipe, and toast to the upcoming new year.
Belize Eggnog (Rum PoPo)
2 cans evaporated milk
3/4 can of condensed milk
1/2 of a fifth of rum (dark or light)
2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Combine all ingredients and blend well.