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January 10, 2008

Nutmeg (Recipe: Thomas Jefferson's bread pudding)

Nutmeg1

In November 1973, President Richard Nixon, in a televised speech about his knowledge of the events surrounding the Watergate break-in, announced to the nation, "I am not a crook."

Nobody believed him.

So, I know I'm taking a chance when I shake my head and jiggle my jowls (wait -- was it Nixon, or Rich Little-as-Nixon, who did that?) and announce to readers everywhere:

I am not a Nutmegger.

I'm not. Really.

If you're not from Connecticut, you're not one, either. A Nutmegger is someone from The Nutmeg State, which is the somewhat mysterious nickname for Rhode Island's next-door neighbor.

Why a small area of New England is nicknamed after the fruit of a tree native to Indonesia, a tree that doesn't grow anywhere in Connecticut, isn't entirely clear. According to the Connecticut State Library, the state's early itinerant peddlers were reputedly so clever that they were able to make and sell wooden nutmegs while buyers paid the price of the real thing. Or perhaps they sold actual nutmeg, but buyers thought the hard-shelled seeds were bits of wood.

Either way, an odd excuse for a nickname.

Long before door-to-door salesmen cornered the nutmeg market in Connecticut, however, Dutch traders controlled the world's nutmeg production by colonizing, and restricting trade from, the Spice Islands. When French explorers smuggled nutmeg trees to Mauritius, the Dutch monopoly was broken, and the British East India Company carried nutmeg trees to many parts of the British Empire. Today nutmeg is a major export of Grenada, and also thrives in -- and features in the cuisines of -- Malaysia, India (where it is a component of garam masala, a common spice blend), Sri Lanka and the West Indies, as well as Indonesia.

It's hard to talk about nutmeg without also mentioning mace, though only one is a fixture in The Perfect Pantry. To get to the nutmeg, which is the seed of the Myristica fragrans tree, you first have to wait for the outer covering of the seed to burst, revealing the aril, a red, lacy membrane (the mace). The seed is left to dry for up to two months, until the inner nut (the nutmeg) begins to rattle. Then the aril (mace) is removed, revealing the hard-shelled nutmeg. Of the two, nutmeg is spicier and less expensive; mace has a mild flavor, and a higher price tag.

Nutmeg enhances the flavor of dark green vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as potatoes and cabbage, and it is equally at home in a heavy meat stew and a well-laced eggnog.

Ground nutmeg degrades quickly, so if you can, purchase whole nutmegs and grate them as needed. Look for shells free of the tiny holes that could indicate disease (or stowaways).   

In Thomas Jefferson's day it was fashionable to carry your own nutmeg grater, or to wear a small one around your neck. It's something to consider, if you're still evolving your look. Otherwise, do what I do, and use a microplane from the hardware store.

Thomas Jefferson's bread pudding

It’s unlikely that Jefferson had Vienna bread, hamburger buns, or Hershey’s chocolate sauce, but all work well in this recipe, which comes from Woody Hill Bed & Breakfast in Westerly, Rhode Island. Serves 10-12.

Ingredients

2 cups scalded milk, kept warm
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and kept warm
1/8 cup apricot brandy
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 lb crusty bread: Vienna bread, hamburger rolls, crusty white bread (day old bread works best)
Chocolate sauce (optional, homemade or Hershey’s)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine milk, butter, brandy and vanilla. Beat in the sugar, egg and nutmeg. Add the bread cubes, submerging until thoroughly moistened. Transfer the pudding mixture into a three-quart bundt pan that’s been sprayed with baking spray. Do this gently, so that the bread does not break up. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until set. Serve with chocolate sauce.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spiced punch
Not-just-for-Thanksgiving pumpkin pie
Tagine of chicken with prunes and almonds
Sweet potato pie
Quinoa pudding
Spice cake
Buddy Lasagna

Comments

I have only used nutmeg powder and eaten some kind of preserved nutmeg (avail in Malaysia) before. This is something I don't use and eat often.

I love your state nicknames. It sounds entirely bizarre over here on this side of the pond.
And grating nutmeg? Love it even more. I´d never, ever, buy ground, where´s the fun in that?

After grating nutmeg for the first time I don't think I will ever go back to the ground type, Lydia.
And I bought a Microplane on my trip - I don't know how I'd lived with it until then. :)

What an entertaining post this is!:D Nutmeg certainly is a heady spice. Maybe if I wore a nutmeg grater around my neck I would use it more!

I absolutely believe that you are NOT a Nugmegger! I never knew that mace and nutmeg were related, although the flavors made me suspiscious. The Thomas Jefferson recipe is a hoot - I'm sure it was done in honor of TJ, not because he kept Hersheys Syrup at Monticello! But, a great use for that old bottle of apricot brandy!

i wonder why mace is less flavorful yet more expensive?

You had me at Jiggle My Jowls!

Yep. I only buy whole nutmegs. They are so easy to grate with a microplane.

I don't normally have one purpose gadgets but I really do like my nutmeg grater and use it lots. Often with my coffee.
My dad always used mace in pumpkin pie. I really started appreciating mace when I tried some from Pensy's. It's pretty special.

You're not fooling me, surely Jefferson had Vienna bread, hamburger buns, or Hershey’s chocolate sauce! :-P Looks good though and an informative post on nutmeg

Gee I think if you were to wear your microplane around your neck in order to grate nutmeg at a moments notice you certainly should be able to call yourself a nutmegger! Plus this recipe looks so good- apricot brandy? where have I been-

Speaking of Nixon, a nutmeg grater around the neck reminds me of the Studio 54-era fashion for wearing a coke spoon around the neck. Actually, that was more the Carter years than the Nixon years, wasn't it?

And of course, the nutmeg thing seems far more wholesome.

I love your intro for this post, it drew me right in! Nixon? Nutmeg? What's going on? And of course I loved the history & recipe, you know me. :)

Tigerfish, I've never heard of preserved nutmeg. Must look into that!

Lobstersquad, I can only imagine how strange some of the nicknames sound. How about The Show Me State (Missouri)?

Patricia, I can't remember life before Microplanes. The taste of freshly grated nutmeg is so much more vibrant than the pre-ground nutmeg.

Nupur, should we think about bringing back the fashion?

TW, the original of this recipe was baked in a beehive oven, in the way Jefferson might have cooked. As you know, he was quite the gourmand, and I'm guessing if Hershey's syrup was around in his day, he might well have tried it!

Steamy, the reason mace is more expensive is because, like saffron, it takes a great many arils, which must be harvested by hand, to make a quantity of mace. To me it tastes very different, almost sweeter, than nutmeg.

Alanna, I used to laugh every time I saw Rich Little do his impersonation....

Veron, here here for the microplane!

MyKitchen, some nutmeg graters are truly beautiful, and if you buy one, it often comes filled with whole nutmegs. I've never tried mace in pumpkin pie, but it's a New England classic combination.

Mike, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Jefferson had any of those things! Have you ever toured the kitchen at Monticello? He was a serious foodie.

Callipygia, hmmmm, if I wore my Microplane around my neck, I think people would call me something strange. I'll be this would be equally delicious with a bit of rum in place of the brandy.

Julie, oh yes, the coke spoon. Now that was a fashion statement! Not healthy, but practical.

Ari, thanks. You know what they say...some of my favorite bloggers are Nutmeggers!

You're right, Lydia... once you've had fresh nutmeg, there's just no going back!

That was such a fun post to read! :D I agree a microplane is indispensable for nutmeg. There's really no going back after you've had the fresh stuff.

I'n trying to envision my nutmeg grater around my neck... and the little trail of brown nutmeg dust down the front of my shirt...

Lydia, you are inspired! Story and comments too. If you wore the microplane, would you be allowed to board an airplane? Would you be called a nutmugger? (Is it cabin fever time yet?) And thinking about TJ: he probably wouldn't even have sugar as we know it, maybe not even vanilla extract. Wouldn't he love your pantry?

Very, very interesting!

Paz (who wishes she had time to make the bread pudding)

Mmmm, my favorite spice in my favorite dessert! Yum!

Michelle, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Fresh grated nutmeg spoils you for life!

Amy, thanks. I love my microplane -- in fact, I have two, one for coarse stuff like parmesan cheese, and the other for nutmeg and lemon zest.

Katie, you know the answer to that one -- wear brown shirts! I think more about the nutmegs rattling inside. Like a cow wearing a cow bell...

Susan, I'm laughing! Nutmugger? You're the one who's inspired! I'd like to think TJ would have had some really strange convenience foods in his pantry, just for fun.

Paz, bread pudding is easy, and great for entertaining. Try making it next time there's a snowstorm and you're stuck in the house. You can use any leftover bread for this.

Peabody, you're such a wonderful baker, you're probably cringing at the mention of hamburger buns and Hershey syrup. But oh boy is it good.

a "Nutmegger" is one of four terms used for connecticut, and a term for a person from Connecticut. The other three terms for Connecticut are

1. "The Constitution State" having the First Written Constitution in the Americas ("The Fundamental Orders") 15 January 1638. it's also posted on our licence plates.

2.the next nick name is "The land of Steady Habbits." this is exemplified by the state motto, in latin on our state flag, "QUI TRANSTULIT SUSTIMET" We whom transplant shall sustain... (we still address our governor as "Your Excellency" harking back to the days when the Royal Governor was a prince appointed by the british king)

3. "the Provision State" was used during the war for independence. Many supplies, food, materiale' and ordenence was made in connecticut and shipped to the contenental/rebel armies 1775-1784; making the connecticut coast line a favorite target of british raids on our coastal towns/sea ports.

4. The Nutmeg State. Counterfit nutmegs were made by unscruplis artisians/traders in connecticut in it's early colonial/early statehood days. Yes, the Dutch did have a corrner on the nutmeg market spice trade, but remember in 1608 adrian Brocke, a dutch trader/explorer sailed up the connecticut river, settling the area and establishing trade here. (Connecticut in algonquin means 'the long slow tidal river') so the 'nutmeg/spice/fur trade was well established here in connecticut before the english took over.

it's also a very tasty spice, and if taken in quanity can get one 'high'


Jeff, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'm guess you are a Nutmegger! Thanks for the additional info.

yep...and a red sox fan too (minority here in south central CT...enveloped by the heathen NY Yankee fans) retired from state service, going back to college, law school...and a humble Captain in the Governor's Foot Guard ( www.footguard.org )

Jeff, a Red Sox fan in Yankee country -- very brave. We are Yankee fans in Sox country -- also brave! Thanks again for the CT info.

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