People who know Stef and I will understand that finding new ingredients makes us very happy – some might say a little too happy (but we don’t care!).
When a friend recently went on a cruise around Barbados (a rich friend, obvs) I remembered buying a nutmeg with the mace still attached when I was in my 20’s and hadn’t been able to find one since. I asked if he saw any to bring me some back.
I was so happy when I received this photo saying “Is this what you’re looking for?”
It was what I was looking for but even better! I’d seen pictures of nutmeg still in its fruit, but never with the prospect of that very fruit coming to live with me!
The nutmeg fruit is used in preserves over there and can’t be exported because once the fruit has opened to expose the nutmeg, it deteriorates really quickly. The bright red that you can see is the mace which is a spice in its own right, you can buy it in ‘blades’ or ground and it has a similar flavour to nutmeg, but lighter. When you buy blades of mace in a shop, they are brown in colour – it was fantastic to see them so red. My friend had found them on the floor, like conkers!
I couldn’t wait to see them in the flesh.
Sure enough, a package appeared on my doorstep – the best present ever!
It had started to wrinkle and dry a little and the leaves were long gone, but here it was and it was mine!
The mace was still a vibrant red and the nutmeg was nestling nicely in its fruity bed. There was a promising rattle coming from inside the shell – the only way to get to the nutmeg is to take off the mace and then get the nut crackers out to crack the outer shell. Fortunately, I’d been brought some spares!
I felt as though I’d just seen a baby duck hatch! The scent of nutmeg was intense but softer than normal.
We sliced into the fruit and cut a sliver to taste. A very vague taste of nutmeg, but overwhelmed by a ‘green’ taste. It dries your mouth like rhubarb does when you eat it, but without the tang. So… fruit-wise, not so good.
I’ve only cracked open a couple – I’m saving them for special occasions like cracking open champagne.
In the meantime, let’s start thinking about recipes to use nutmeg in!
My first experience of Cornbread was seeing it on Cowboy films when I was small. The bread that came in huge, cake-like slices that was enjoyed around a campfire. I always wondered what it tasted like!
Cornbread is made out of Cornmeal (Polenta). It shouldn’t be confused with cornflour or Hasa Marina (which is the type of corn used for corn tortillas. This has added lime, which makes it stick together to form a kind of dough). Cornmeal is easy enough to pick up – lots of supermarkets stock it now in the World Food section.
Chilli Cheese Cornbread
Oven 200C, 425F, Gas 7.
70g grated strong cheese
1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp chilli flakes
200g plain yogurt
2tblsp melted butter
In a large bowl mix cornmeal, grated cheese, baking powder, chilli flakes and salt – stir well to combine.
To the bowl, add yogurt, melted butter and egg. Mix together thoroughly.
Spoon into a well greased baking tray.
Bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and risen.
Serve warm with a big bowl of chilli, rice, sour cream and cheese!
This time of year, I have a brief wonderful moment when my all year round hoarding of jam jars, stops becoming a nuisance and starts becoming useful. We don’t eat huge amounts of jam, but there are some things that I can’t let go past without marking their season with a pot of something home-made – whether it’s rose petals for jam, chillies for jams, chutneys and pickles, lemons for curd, raisins for mincemeat or berries to make some lovely soft set jam. There’s something wonderful about opening a jar of rose petal jam in the depths of winter and remembering the fun we had running around in the sun looking for gorgeously scented dog rose petals or raspberry jam and remembering collecting them in the summer holidays.
This jam recipe is very forgiving and very, very simple to do. You can make it with any berries. If your strawberries are large, just make sure that you cut them up so that they’re roughly the same size as the berries that you’re using. You can halve the quantities, or even quarter them to make just one or two jars. This quantity made 5 jars of varying sizes.
Top tip: if any hot jam splashes on to you, don’t try to lick it off quickly. This will mean that you have scalding hot sugar sticking to your tongue or mouth. Wipe it off with a cloth or with cold water.
If you want to keep your jam any length of time, you must follow the simple instructions to sterilise your jars. Even if you think that they’re clean, they may harbour some bugs which will quickly make your precious jam go mouldy. If, on the other hand you’re thinking that you’ll use the jam withing a couple of weeks, you can skip the sterilising process and just make sure that your jars are as clean as you can make them.
How to prepare your jam jars:
Soak the jars overnight in hot, soapy water to get rid of any remaining labels and glue. In the morning give them a good scrub inside and out. Do the same to the screw tops. Re-fill the bowl with more hot soapy water and wash them all again. Rinse the jars and lids in more hot water and leave them upside down on the draining board until they’ve dried a little. Don’t wipe them inside or out with anything. Leave them there until you’re ready to put the hot jam into them.
1kg of fruit – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants etc in any proportions (an extra 100g or so won’t hurt)
1kg of jam sugar (you’ll find this by the normal sugar. It has pectin added to it, to make the jam set – this takes all of the guess work out of jam making!)
1-2 tblsp lemon juice (from a bottle is fine)
If you are making a jam with a lot of raspberries or blackberries, you might like to do what I do to get rid of a few of the pips. Put half of the raspberries and/or blackberries into a saucepan with 1tblsp of lemon juice. Turn the heat underneath it and mash the fruit with a potato masher. Bring to the boil and fast simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the cooked fruit into a sieve, over a bowl and then push the cooked fruit through the sieve until all that remains in the sieve is pips and a bit of mushed up fruit. Get it as dry as you can. Throw away the pips in the sieve and put the juice into a large saucepan with the rest of the un-cooked fruit, sugar and remaining lemon juice.
Put two small saucers into the freezer. Put the oven onto its lowest setting.
Bring the fruit to the boil and continue to boil fiercely for around 10 minutes.
When the jam has been cooking for 5 minutes, put the clean jam jars upside down directly onto the racks in the oven. Leave them in there for 5 minutes.
Gently stir every so often to check nothing is sticking to the bottom. Take one of the saucers out of the freezer and carefully pour a desert spoon of the hot jam onto the saucer. Leave it for 30 seconds and then push it with your finger. If the jam wrinkles easily, it means that it will set when it’s cool in the jar. If it doesn’t wrinkle easily, leave the jam to cook for another couple of minutes and try the saucer test again.
Turn the heat off and leave the jam to cool for 5 minutes. Take the jam jars out of the oven and turn it off. In the cooling oven, put the jam jar lids and leave them there until you’ve put the jam in the jars.
Very, very carefully (hot jam is so dangerous) using a small non plastic jug or teacup, pour the hot jam into the hot jars (hot jam in cold jars will make them break) until it’s nicely filled with about a 1-2cm gap from the top. Continue until all of the jars are full. Using a tea cloth to hold the jar, screw on the warm lids firmly and leave them to cool completely.
Even though we haven’t had lots of snow and really cold mornings this year, Winter has seemed very long this year. It’s lovely to see the changes at market when new seasons begin and this year the changes seem to have come in all at once.
Even having to get up at 5 a.m. didn’t matter this morning when I got there and had a look around!
I hope these photos give a ‘Spring’ to your step this morning.