Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Enough Mace.

How often do you use mace? A reader asked about its apparent decline in popularity recently in response to the recipe of the day.

Mace is, to quote the OED “An aromatic spice consisting of the fleshy aril or covering surrounding the seed in the fruit of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, dried and used (chiefly in powdered form) to flavour savoury dishes, sauces, etc. (the kernel of the seed being the source of nutmeg).” Mace was certainly known and used in medieval Britain and Europe – but although we still use nutmeg itself, and other sweet spices such as cinnamon and cloves, methinks mace nowadays has been relegated towards the back of the mental pantry (at least in ‘English-speaking’ kitchens that is.)

I wondered just what have we lost, or mislaid, in our apparent modern neglect of mace, so set out (briefly) to find out. Historically there is no shortage of meat dishes flavoured with mace, and of course there is the inevitable fruit cake, and perhaps mulled wine, but surely there are some different ideas begging revival?
Chocolate and mace – now that sounds like a combination I could learn to love. The author of The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker, Plain and Practical (Philadelphia, 1864) gives mace double duty in the following recipe – the ‘basic’ or vanilla version of chocolate has mace, and more mace is added to the ‘mace’ version.

Cinnamon, Mace, or Clove Chocolate.
These are made in the same manner as the last* using about an ounce and a half or two ounces of either sort of spice in powder to that quantity or add a sufficiency of either of these essential oils to flavour.

*Vanilla Chocolate.
Ten pounds of prepared nuts, ten pounds of sugar, vanilla two ounces and a half, cinnamon one ounce, one drachm of mace, and two drachms of cloves, or the vanilla may be used soley. Prepare your nuts according to the directions already given**. Cut the vanilla in small bits, pound it fine with part of the sugar, and mix it with the paste, boil about one half of the sugar to the blow before you mix it to the chocolate, otherwise it will eat hard. Proceed as before, and either put it in small moulds, or divide it in tablets, which you wrap in tinfoil. This is in general termed eatable chocolate
[**the cacao nuts are pounded in a warmed mortar until they are reduced to an oily paste which is then sweetened if desired.]

And I like the next idea – clotted cream delicately flavoured with mace - which does not need a spice bag, the ‘blades’ being lacy enough to allow string to be easily threaded through for easy retrieval.

Clotted Cream
String four blades of mace on a string, put them to a gill of new milk, and six spoonfuls of rose water, simmer a few minutes, then by degrees stir this liquor, strained into the yolks of two new eggs well beaten, stir the whole into a quart of good cream, set it over the fire and stir till hot but not boiling, pour it into a deep dish and let it stand four and twenty hours, serve it in a cream dish; to eat with fruit some persons prefer it without any taste but cream, in which case use a quart of new milk, or do it like the Devonshire cream scalded; when done enough a round mark will appear on the surface of the cream the size of the bottom of the pan it is done in, which in the country they call the ring, and when that is seen remove the pan from the fire.
The Illustrated London Cookery Book, Frederick Bishop (1852)

And finally, an interesting mac-based sauce which just might ring the changes for your next roast turkey or chicken.

Sauce for Turkey or Chicken.
Boil a spoonful of the best mace very tender, and also the liver of the turkey, but not too much which would make it hard; pound the mace with a few drops of the liquor to a very fine pulp; then pound the liver, and put about half of it to the mace, with pepper, salt, and the yolk of an egg boiled hard, and then dissolved; to this add by degrees the liquor that drains from the turkey, or some other good gravy. Put these liquors to the pulp, and boil them some time; then take half a pint of oysters and boil them but a little, and lastly, put in white wine, and butter wrapped in a little flour. Let it boil but a little, lest the wine make the oysters hard; and just at last scald four spoonfuls of good cream, and add, with a little lemon juice, or pickled mushrooms will do better.
The Lady’s Own Cookery Book … by Lady Charlotted Campbell Bury (1844)

Quotation for the Day.
Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.
Erma Bombeck.


Unknown said...

Perhaps it's just an American thing, but I use mace in almost any dessert involving pumpkin or apples. It's generally used along with cinnamon, regular nutmeg, and cloves or allspice.

Bart said...

Mace certainly isn't in heavy use in Belgian cuisine anymore, although you can find it in specialised stores. It's called 'foelie' here (from the Latin folium, meaning membrane or leaf).

It's in heavy use in 17th century cookbooks (I'm not sure about later recipes), but so far I'm afraid I've been less than authentic in replacing it with regular nutmeg...