Going Nuts For Fresh Nutmeg

Husband-and-wife team Rich Waxman and Cathy Moratto grow spices, vegetables and exotic fruit on three acres in Kalaheo. The couple only sells nutmeg (whole or ground) and ground mace at two Kaua’i-based health food stores.

What’s growing: Avocado, apple banana, celery, cherry tomatoes, clove, durian, figs, Hawaiian chili peppers, kale, lemongrass, lettuce, lima beans, mamey sapote, mangosteen, Meyer lemon, nutmeg, onions, passion fruit, papaya, pomegranate, sage, star fruit, Swiss chard, vanilla.

NUTMEG

Nutmeg has been cultivated for more than 1,000 years. Early growing and cultivation of the trees, and even the location, were secrets jealously guarded by the Dutch East Indies Company, which kept a lock on nutmeg production, in a very nasty way, for hundreds of years.

Nutmeg is the egg-shaped kernel inside the seed of the fruit of a tropical evergreen tree; it’s dark brown and about an inch long. Mostly, you’ll find ground nutmeg in jars at the store, but freshly grated whole nutmeg has more flavor.

The nutmeg tree produces two spices: the nutmeg seed, which is inside a hard shell, and mace, which is a lacy red coating around the shell. When the fruit of the nutmeg tree is ripe, it splits open revealing a glimpse of the fresh, scarlet-red mace inside. The flesh is discarded or used to make jam. The mace is removed, and as it dries turns creamy yellow in color. The nutmeg seed is dried inside the shell for several weeks. At that point it will have shrunk a bit, and will rattle inside the shell, which is then cracked off.

Season: The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place seven to nine years after planting, and the trees reach full production after 20 years. On Kaua’i, the fruit ripens in early summer, and the nutmeg is largest and most flavorful at this point.

What to look for: When purchasing whole nutmeg, select firm seeds that are light-brown in color. A whitish covering indicates it was dusted with lime to prevent insects. Wash this off before use.

Storage: Whole nutmeg keeps nearly forever; ground should be used within six months.

Tip: Ten seconds of rubbing on a small-holed grater will yield 1/4 teaspoon of fresh, flavorful nutmeg.

Preparation: The sweet and warm spice is a holiday favorite and lovely with fruit dishes, custards, cakes and other sweets. Nutmeg pairs well with spinach, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. It also works well with cream and cheese sauces, such as béchamel, for pasta. A pinch of nutmeg enhances braised or stewed meats and poultry. It also is used in spice mixtures such as jerk seasoning and curry. Moratto’s favorite ways to use nutmeg are in eggs, carrot salad and coleslaw.

Health benefits: Nutmeg is said to be useful for insomnia, anxiety, calming muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, joint pain and gout, lowering blood pressure, male infertility and impotence, improving concentration, increasing circulation, lowering cholesterol and toothaches (nutmeg oil). Taking too much nutmeg can cause side effects such as nausea, hallucinations, swelling and shock.

Kikala Farm spices can be found at: Grocery: Living Foods Market, Vim ‘N Vigor. Call Cathy at 415-717-4743.

KAUA’I-STYLE EGGNOG

I usually try to provide healthy recipes, but in the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d share this indulgent recipe. Cheers to you for a happy and healthy 2013, and mahalo for reading!

* 3 cups milk, divided
* 3 cups heavy cream, divided
* 12 large egg yolks
* 1 1/3 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
* 1 1/2 cups Koloa Spiced Rum

In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk 2 cups milk, 2 cups heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar and nutmeg until blended. Turn heat to low and stir constantly until the mixture becomes a little thicker than heavy cream, about 175 degrees F. Do not overheat or the mixture will curdle.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup each of milk and cream. Pour through a strainer and into a storage container. Chill thoroughly, uncovered.

Stir in Koloa Spiced Rum.

Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours and up to three days.

Serve sprinkled with fresh nutmeg.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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