Fall is one of our absolute favorite times year. The weather here in Northern Maryland is beautiful, the leaves are beginning change, and it’s almost time for pumpkin carving, apple picking and hay rides. Even better yet? It’s time for pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, and gingerbread. A common component of all of these yummy fall foods? Nutmeg! Here’s everything you need to know about one of the most commonly used spices in fall foods:
The nutmeg tree is one of the more interesting spice plants in that it actually produces two differ-ent spices – nutmeg and mace – within the same fleshy fruit. The trees grow in the East and West Indies to a height of 40 – 60 feet, bearing fruit for up to 80 years. The mature nutmeg tree is characterized by dark gray bark, deep green foliage, small groups of bell-shaped pale yellow flowers and a light brown fruit from which the spices are obtained. When the fruit is ripe, it splits open to reveal a dark brown seed shell enveloped by a bright red lacy membrane or aril which is known as mace. After the membrane is removed, the glossy brown seed shells are dried for up to 8 weeks. When the seed inside the shell rattles, the shells are ready to be cracked open to obtain the spice known as nutmeg.
Nutmeg was a part of the spice trade as early as the sixth century, having become valued for its culinary and pharmaceutical qualities. Folklore suggested that the spice was valuable to treat headaches, epilepsy, intestinal disorders and kidney problems among others. It was also used as incense; the streets of Rome were perfumed with nutmegs as preparation for Henry VI’s coronation in the 12th century.
Nutmeg is most often used in bakery blends to season sweet baked goods such as pumpkin pie. It is also found in seasonings for frankfurters, some sausages, bolognas and soups.