Portugal is our destination in May, and precious articles stored in our “travel” file are reborn. Portugal was known for its Nutmeg-that was the monopoly the Portuguese had in the 16th century. So coveted was the nutmeg, that they distributed phony charts of the seas surrounding the spice Islands, hoping to steer foreign vessels towards dangerous reefs. So what’s new?
Magellan’s discovering the Spice Islands in 1521, converted the bland tables of earlier times, to palate teasing foods. Spices were used for fumigating undesirable areas, and nutmeg was used as sachet by fashionable ladies. So often, I have tried to imagine the “smells” of the medieval life with personal hygiene and open slaughterhouses together with other unmentionable scents, permeating the countryside. Spices were heaped in yards, and burned, to lure the undesirable smells to the heavens.
Relaxing in taverns in the 17th and 18th century, meant well dressed gentlemen carrying nutmeg and nutmeg graters in their pockets to grate over beer and grog. Mace, is nutmeg’s sister, as it is the outer shell of the nut. It is a bit more pungent than nutmeg. A healthy tree, at full maturity, yields about 1500 nuts annually. It has always been a costly spice.
Today, 40% of our nutmeg comes from Grenada. Frugal Granadians waste no part of their favorite tree. The flesh or fruit becomes jam or soft candy called nutmeg cheese. The shell housing the nut is ground for oil, and the cracked casings become “gravel” for driveways that emit a fragrance with each gentle rain.
Enjoy using nutmeg in soups, gravies, custards, white sauce, on baked acorn squash, creamed spinach, and varieties of quiche. Be Bold! Use Nutmeg!
NUTMEG HONEY CAKES
1/2 cup (1 cube) Dairy Maid butter & margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1 tb. grated orange peel
2/3 cup honey
2 cups sifted flour with soda , salt, & spices
1 1/2 tsp. soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs (room temp.)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
1/4 tsp. ginger
2/3 cup orange juice (room temp.)
Cream butter/margarine and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and orange peel. Beat well after each addition. Blend in honey.
Add sifted ingredients alternately with orange juice to creamed mixture. Grease and flour a loaf pan or a 9″ tube pan, and pour in mixture. Can be made in miniature cupcakes too. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes or until tested done. Cool on rack. Sift powdered sugar over top.
Delicious with tea.