Monday, January 4, 2010

nutmeg and mace

today i learn something new. today, i was at lim chu kang when i saw some quite ripe nutmeg fruit on a few trees. there are some people, like my blogger friend, icemoon - whom i have yet to meet in person - who have no idea how a nutmeg tree looks like. maybe that was why he could not find the nutmeg tree in the istana.

using my walking stick, i managed to hit and knock a few fruit down. at home, when i cut open the fruit, i was surprised to see a red membrance encasing the seed. i found out that this red lacy stuff is called the mace. another thing that i learnt is that the spice that is called nutmeg is actually enclosed in the seed. the spice nutmeg is not the fleshy part of the fruit. when the fruit is ripe, it actually split open to reveal the mace within. the mace turns crimson only when the fruit is ripe.

along certain stretches of the roads in lim chu kang, national environment agency (nea) has planted nutmeg and other fruit trees. i have blogged about the soursop fruit trees at lim chu kang here. what i have not mentioned before is that you are allowed to pick the fruit. during the fruiting season, especially of langsat and mangosteen, a lot of people do that. unfortunately, there are no roadside durian trees. however, in lim chu kang, you can find them in the forested areas and some are quite close to the road.

a nutmeg tree is the only tree that produces two types of spices - nutmeg and mace. when i first visited penang about 30 years ago, i remember being asked to buy back a few bottles of the nutmeg oil. the nutmeg tree is widely grown on the island.

when i was young, i used to eat the shredded bits of fleshy part the nutmeg fruit. sometimes the pulp is sliced into crescent-shaped bits. not everyone takes to this titbits because of the peculiar taste. the strips of nutmeg which are taken as a snack are soaked in some sugar solution and after that sprinkled with sugar dust.

in penang cuisine, nutmeg is made into pickles and these pickles are even shredded as toppings on the uniquely penang ais kacang. nutmeg is also blended (creating a fresh, green, tangy taste and white colour juice) or boiled (resulting in a much sweeter and brown juice) to make iced nutmeg juice or as it is called in penang hokkien, "lau hau peng". (from wikipedia)

a bit of history to spice up this bit about nutmeg and mace.

the dutch waged a bloody war, including the massacre and enslavement of the inhabitants of the island of banda, just to control nutmeg production in the east indies. in 1760, the price of nutmeg in london was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the dutch voluntarily burning full warehouses of nutmegs in amsterdam. the dutch held control of the spice islands until world war ii. (wikipedia).

in the 19th century, there were nutmeg plantations in certain parts of singapore. a legacy of this is a road named nutmeg road. where is nutmeg road?


peter said...

At Mt Elizabeth Hospital where Mt E branches into 2; one to back of Grand Hyatt and the other to York Hotel.

Your photo - behind the road sign, there used to be a road into a very big bungalow hosue which is now MT E. I think the concrete road pillars are still there. The bungalow belonged to the ONG family from Indonesia.

Lam Chun See said...

Anyone know is the name of nutmeg tree in Hokkien? I just curious to know if I have encountered this tree before in my kampong days.

yg said...

chun see, in penang and ipoh, they refer to it as buah pala. i think the chinese call it 'lau hau'.

yg said...

seck yeong,
nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavour. mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. nutmeg is a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh (see nutmeg grater).

yg said...

peter, you know rich tycoons of all nationalities?

peter said...

I mix with all sorts of people. That ONG family fello was my classmate in secondary school. We always go to his house every Saturday after ECA.

kimology said...

My grandma used to bring the sweetened and pickled fruit from Penang whenever she visited us. The oil and oilment too, so much so that the house would be filled with the fragrance. In cantonese, it's called 'tau kau'. It's to be good for all sorts of ailments. One restaurant in Malaysia serves a nutmeg tea, not bad but too weak for my taste.

yg said...

kimology, i was told that nutmeg oil helps the muscles to relax, so it can be used as a massage oil.

Icemoon said...

Thanks yg for the nutmeg fruit. Let's see if I can find the fruit along Nutmeg Road just time I go Orchard.

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