I just got back from South India after a short trip. Since I went alone this time I had plenty of time to cook and experiment in the kitchen and somethng which I was the most excited about was nutmeg jelly.
Though the origins of this spice are believed to be Indonesia, we have trees in Kerala as well. Every day fresh nutmeg is collected from the nutmeg tree and kept for drying. Since my parents have a few trees I had an ample supply to play with .………In Kerala the nutmeg trees are called Jathi and seeds are called Jathikka.the_content()
The nutmeg tree is the only plant which gives us two spices – nutmeg and mace. Both these spices are strongly aromatic and warm in taste.
The nutmeg tree is a tropical tree with dark green oblong leaves and small bell like yellow flowers. I remember when I was a kid I liked to munch on the flowers as it had a very subtle flavour of nutmeg. Even though they are very small they are beautiful and give off a distinct aroma when they are in bloom.
The fruit is egg shaped and resembles a large apricot. As the fruit matures the outer fleshy covering bursts to reveal the seed and that is when it is picked. The seed is covered with the red membrane and that is the mace portion of the nutmeg. It is removed by hand from the shell just after harvesting and dried. The flattened and dried pieces of mace are called mace blades. The intense aroma of the mace develops during the drying process but unfortunately the bright red colour fades to a rusty orange. It is said to have a finer aroma than nutmeg but the difference is very small.
I like to flavour my soups, stews and sauces (especially béchamel) with mace rather than nutmeg. When I make béchamel sauce (white sauce), I heat and infuse milk with a blade of mace, onions and cloves for a while to get a strong but delicious flavour. The infused milk is added to the sautéed butter and flour mixture and then cooked until it is thickened. I prefer it rather than grating nutmeg to the finished sauce as it has a much more refined look without the black specs of nutmeg. Mace can be used as a nutmeg substitute in most recipes because it is sweeter and milder compared to nutmeg. I add it to my spice blends, especially for Garam masala, the Indian spice blend.
The nutmeg nut is dried until the nut rattles inside the shell and it is then shelled to reveal the inner kernel. The nuts are usually pressed for oil and is used for perfumes and in food industry.
Nutmeg quickly loses its fragrance when ground, so the best thing is to buy the whole nut and grate just before usage. In my kitchen it is mostly used to flavour minced meat dishes like meat balls, meat loafs and for kebabs, It adds a delicious warm spicy flavour…… When using nutmeg in cooking, generally only small quantities are used and therefore it doesn’t cause any harm and is believed to promote digestion.
After the nut is removed from the fruit the edible outer cover remains and in my parents house this is usually dumped into a compost heap. During the nutmeg season, bucket- fulls are wasted every day. It is a shame to waste this delicious fruit. It is slightly tough but when cooked or processed it is delicious. I remember having it in the Malaysian highlands, sold as a snack, with a slight salty sweet taste. Unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. I will be really greatful if any one could tell me the name so that I can search for it on my next visit. I also had it in Penang. It was shredded and cooked in sugar syrup and used as a topping for Ais Kacang the famous Malaysian dessert…
My mom sometimes makes pickles out of it and this time when I saw the nutmeg fruits I decided to try nutmeg jelly…. the experiment went well except I had to add more sugar in between as the jelly was not setting properly but in the end, the result was a delicious jelly with a sweet taste of nutmeg.
This is how i made it –
Nutmeg fruit (peeled and chopped)-2 cups
- Boil the chopped fruit with waater for ten minutes and cool down.
- Pass it through a seive and mix the liquid with sugar
- Boil together gently until it reduced to almost one third and the cooled jelly starts to set.
- Pour it into a container and cool
It tasted delicious with fresh bread. I was very happy that at least a few nutmeg fruits were used up………