Monday, March 03, 2008

Nutmeg Dreaming.

March 3 ...

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times probably had a lot of people scurrying to their pantries on this day in 1961 – some to throw out, some to try out the nutmeg sitting nonchalantly in the spice rack. The article was headed “Nutmeg Costs a County Jail Guard His Job”, and it related to the use of nutmeg as a psychoactive substance in the prison. The use of nutmeg in the kitchens of the New Jersey State Prison is now banned. I wonder what alerted the authorities? Several pounds of nutmeg a week on the kitchen supply list?

As it turns out, history and myth-tory and the Land of Rumour are rife with stories of Myristica being used in this way, and those of us who only think of it as an aromatic brown sprinkle on the top of a just-perfectly-wobbly-set baked custard, or the fragrant spicy note in a steaming Christmas Pudding must squarely face its sinister under-belly. Various ‘sources’ claim it is used in prisons, by bohemians, beatniks, students, and Eastern mystics for the cannabis-like psychotropic effects induced by the contained myristicin. Very unpleasant symptoms have been reported with large amounts, and two nutmegs may indeed be a fatal dose – but be reassured that culinary quantities are safe.

The nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is native to the Moluccas in Indonesia. The narcotic properties were apparently well known hundreds of years ago, and one seventeenth century report says that in the Moluccas “ … the Birds of Paradise come flocking to feed upon them; which they have no sooner done to any purpose, but an Giddiness seizing them, they fall on the ground in a profound Sleep or Doziness, and lye so long before they recover, that swarms of bug-Ants that frequent those spicey Woods, frequently eat off their Legs, or intolerably sting, and kill them in earnest.”

I give you a couple of recipes from the eighteenth century which contain nutmeg in quite safe amounts, and are eminently do-able today.

To make a plain Custard.
One quart of good new Milk, sweeten it to your liking; a little grate[d] Nutmeg; eight Eggs, half the Whites omitted; beat them up well, stir them into the Milk, and bake it: A little Rose-water may be added.
[Bradshaw’s valuable family jewel. ... Containing all that relates to cookery, pastry, ... bread making, oat cakes, &c. … 1748]

To Hash Beef.
Cut some tender beef in slices, put it into a stew-pan well floured, with a slice of butter, over a quick fire for three minutes, and then add a little water, a bunch of sweet herbs, some lemon-peel, an onion, a little sweet marjoram, with pepper, salt, and grated nutmeg; cover it close and let it stew till it is tender; then put in a glass of red wine, or strong beer, strain your sauce, serve it hot, and garnish with lemon and beetroot.
[The complete English cook; or, the art of cookery made plain and easy : ... With the order of a bill of fare, for each month, ... By A. Braidley.
London, 1786]

Tomorrow’s Story ….

Waldorf What?

Quotation for the Day …

Eating highly seasoned food is unhealthful, because it stimulates too much, provokes the appetite too much, and often is indigestible. Catharine E. Beecher, in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846)

1 comment:

Lauren said...

This is really interesting stuff. I never knew that nutmeg had such a history. Thanks for teaching me something new today! Lauren,