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THE HERITAGE INGREDIENT NUTMEG

The aromatic seed of the beautifully named tropical tree Myristica fragrans is a spice associated with Christmas, says Debbie Major. Here, she shows how a freshly grated sprinkle can transform sweet and savoury dishes for the festive season

RECIPES AND FOOD STYLING DEBBIE MAJOR PHOTOGRAPHS ANDREW MONTGOMERY STYLING OLIVIA WARDLE

"When the plump fruit of the tropical tree Myristica fragrans is yellow and ripe, it opens to reveal two spices: the nutmeg seed and its lacy red covering, mace, which turns orangeybrown when dried. For me, nutmeg is the superior spice with a more intense flavour. (On the Caribbean island of Grenada, where nutmeg graces the national flag, the locals also use the yellow fruit to make jam.)

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of nutmeg. The tree originally grew only on a few inaccessible islands there and, in 17th-century Europe, nutmeg was more valuable than gold. The Dutch and British fought hard over the area, with the British only ceding their claim in return for an island in North America called New Amsterdam – which they renamed New York.

In the British kitchen, nutmeg is often thought of as a ‘sweet’ spice, for use in cakes, biscuits and desserts, particularly at Christmas. A baked rice pudding is incomplete without a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg before it goes into the oven. But nutmeg is great in savoury cooking, too, such as béchamel sauces and baked spinach dishes. It’s also used in the preservation of meat, especially pork products such as sausages, and in the Far East it regularly appears in curry powders.

Buy whole nutmegs that are as fresh as possible. If they’re dried out they’ll lack fragrance and flavour. Buy in small batches, use quickly and always grate freshly".

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About Delicious Magazine

Make your Christmas and New Year the best ever with our December issue. Shopping’s a breeze with our last-minute gifts, drinks advice and festive taste test. On the sweet side, there’s cake decoration, Scandi baking recipes and 16 pages of showstopper puddings. The River Cottage’s Gill Meller rustles up a fish pie, Theo Randall slow-cooks Italian beef stew and Raymond Blanc makes the best party canapés. For a stress-free Christmas day cook our classic turkey lunch with timeplan or squash and chestnut vegetarian wellington, then roast our cover ham for Boxing Day. Finally, see out the festive season with our recipes for leftovers. Happy Christmas – guaranteed!
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