Do you have Nutmeg in your house?
Whole nutmeg is often kept in European kitchens and it is
believed that as long as there is a whole nutmeg seed in the
kitchen, the marriage will last. So I keep two whole nutmeg
seeds in my kitchen as extra insurance. :>
The title of this book actually refers to
another situation in which Elizabeth David becomes disappointed
with restaurants not keeping a nutmeg grinder for their clients
to use when they are served various dishes with cheese or pasta.
Some information from my own research about
Nutmeg is actually native to the East
Indies and was very popular from the fifteenth to the nineteenth
century. It is one of the original spices cultivated in Tidore
and Ternate, two tiny Spice Islands in Eastern Indonesia.
The best nutmeg is now grown on the Island
of Grenadain in the West Indies. A yellow peach-like fruit is
harvested with a woven wicker basket attached to the end of a
long pole. The inner seed is the nutmeg spice and is superior
when freshly ground. The red-orange net/aril covering the outer
seed is dried and ground to produce mace.
Grinder & Kitchen Essentials
Elizabeth David’s writing in “Is there
a Nutmeg in the House” is much more scholarly than I had
expected. These are essays describing the practical, historical
and earthy aspects of cooking. She does however often make your
mouth water with tales of remembering “cake with orange
icing” or gathering fresh mushrooms from fields near her home
as a child.
This book begins with a brief overview of
Elizabeth’s life. Most of the memories involve cooking. She
even cooked in a kitchen in Egypt. This might explain recipes
for “Spiced Lentil Soup.” She defiantly likes spicy foods
and also has a recipe for Garam Masala.
She shows her love and dislike of various
dishes, ingredients and recipes. She also describes her dream
kitchen and would definitely not approve of my refrigerator
being next to the stove. I have to admit the pictures of her
kitchen are quaint and the use of a table in the middle of the
kitchen made me nostalgic for my grandmother’s kitchen. I
learned to make my grandmother’s apple pie on a small table in
her kitchen. Many cooks find a table essential to roll out
I also loved the use of a French armoire,
English dressers and wooden plate racks in her kitchen. While
the kitchen looked more cluttered in comparison to today’s
streamlined sterile spaces, it has a sense of beauty and
comfort. I at times long for a kitchen with a fireplace, just to
warm up the atmosphere.
While the modern kitchen is more practical,
they can at times feel cold. Unless of course you pack them full
Elizabeth is rather famous for saying:
“One certainly cannot learn the technical
details of cookery entirely from books; but if the cooks,
celebrated and obscure, of the past had believed that written
recipes were unnecessary, we should now be in a sad plight
—Elizabeth David, French Provincial
She had quite a collection of cookbooks and
it shows in her writing. She does seem to have a working
knowledge of the history of cuisine. Through her own research,
she helped to change the way we think about food.
The material in this collection has not
appeared in previous books. Here she emphasizes authentic
recipes and fresh ingredients. The recipes are written out in
paragraph style. They are more of a conversation with the cook
than a quick formula. In this way you can obtain valuable
insight into the methods or reasons for why food is prepared in
a specific way. I did not however find out how to extract juice
from a pomegranate. I was asked this question and since I never
had to deal with the question before am still trying to figure
out if everyone else out there uses a sieve and presses out the
juice. Seems to work.
Elizabeth spends a great deal of time
discussing “oxo cubes” and discusses the fear cooks feel
when a recipe calls for “stock.” I remember such a fear
before I discovered stock pastes. Of course these days stock can
easily be made in a crock pot while you are at work or you can
really just use a stock base/paste. I have to agree with her
when she says that it is satisfying to learn how to “cook from
scratch.” She mentions this in regards to making stocks. A
homemade soup made with homemade stock can be incomparable.
“The making of broths and stocks and
consommés is to me one of the most interesting and satisfactory
of all cooking processes.” pg. 27
While making stock still remains a valuable
skill, I can’t imagine wanting to learn how to make yogurt.
Like a Frenchwoman not wanting to make her own bread, I prefer
to leave yogurt up to the experts. Still, if you wish to know,
Elizabeth has included this information. These days many also
make their own cheese and bread, so I guess why not yogurt? I
make bread myself. Mostly because the homemade taste is
Elizabeth explains why she finds dried
yeast unsatisfactory. My thought is that it was not as reliable
as the yeast we have today. I can keep dried yeast in my
refrigerator for a long time and never even take time to
“proof” the yeast. We are so terribly spoiled these days and
unless we take time to read about the past, we can’t fully
appreciate packages of “quick-rise yeast.”
I had to laugh as I read about her
dissatisfaction with a garlic press. Could this be similar to
the one we use today? I love my garlic press. Please don’t
make me live without it. It sure saves peeling cloves. I can
extract the garlic paste in no time for recipe after recipe.
You might be amused by her recollection of
her housekeeper in Greece tossing a basket of live seafood on
her “eiderdown.” What a character.
Enjoyable reading and essential for anyone who is
interested in culinary history.