Nutmegs are the seed of the fruit from Myristica fragrans, a tropical evergreen tree, which also produces mace. Nutmeg’s volatile oils dissipate quickly when exposed to air, so ground nutmeg loses flavor over time. These dense, oily pits will keep for years in your cupboard, releasing an amazingly complex aroma and flavor every time you grate them.
Nutmeg is used in sweet baking, especially pumpkin pie and spice cakes, as well as being a common ingredient in Northern European sausage and stew recipes. In the South, a pinch of nutmeg is crucial to macaroni and cheese and stewed greens. We have a family Christmas Eve tradition of making eggnog the old-fashioned way, topped off by the grating of nutmeg in Grandma's antique nutmeg grater. Everyone loves it, from the kids to the older folks!
Until just a few centuries ago, all the nutmeg in the world grew only on a few tiny islands in Indonesia. European colonial powers fought bitterly over control of these islands, as nutmeg was highly valued for its flavor, preservative qualities, and alleged ability to cure plague. The Dutch held a monopoly on nutmeg production for many years, but when it was broken nutmeg trees were spread to the West Indies and other areas. These large whole nutmegs are grown in the Caribbean island of Grenada, which is famous for especially high quality nutmegs.