Grocers must plan their inventory by the almanac. Or so it appears. At the first whip of cold, aisles fill with cooks clutching chicken stock. canned fruit and shoulder cuts of meat. It seems that heuristically, our bodies crave deep, rich food at the sniff of winter. So bring on the soups, the pies, the roasts.
Curious too is the hand we play at the spice rack. Spring demands seedling green vegetables with olive oil and lemon. Summer laces our baskets with tomatoes and herbs. And while the pig skin flies this time of year, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg creep into dishes.
Nutmeg surfaces into our conscious mind this time of year because of pilgrims. After bloody battles for control of spices from around the globe, European colonists brought their taste for nutmeg to the Americas. This perfumed nut learned to dance with winter squash and fall fruit. Harvests from the New World.
A betting man will claim that most nutmeg is purchased on the eve of Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie loses its personality without it. If you were raised in an Italian tradition, you might say spinach does too. Starbucks bets that latte’s in October do as well.
Culinary pioneers at the Salty Sow reach into our primal instinct for deep, meaty flavors. They remaster roasts, postulate on poultry and sanctify swine like no other. This restaurant wrote the book on comfort food and make no bones about serving it year round.
Step under the canopy of beer garden lights or slip into their sultry, compartmentalized dining room and see. Harold Marmulstein, chef and partner, flexes his culinary muscles like the strong man at a circus. Your eyes cannot look away.
Despite the shear will of force he brings to braised meats, it is the delicate touch of desert which calls our attention on this day. He simultaneous wrestles two classic sweets from New Orleans, beignets and bananas foster. He forges them into a topic we will discuss for days to come.
Crispy and doughy. A slight chew with the butter-dense banana slice buried deep into the pastry. Slightly glazed with a potion of rum, butter and brown sugar. A caramel’s caramel. The dusting of powdered sugar signals delicacy and delicateness.
Yet the true pirate of the evening is nutmeg. That swashbuckling spice who’s lineage traces back to the Banda Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg anchors memory of warmth and comfort with food and fellowship.
It is the stuff of waking dreams. Literally.
With a little bit of information, prisoners, college students and the poor swallow hard to hallucinate. Wayne Curtis from the Atlantic Monthly explains why it became an alternative drug with toxic after effects.
Allison Aubry summarizes our indelible history with nutmeg in her NPR report. We have fought for this seed for centuries. It is our legacy.
Now McCormick makes the spice as accessible as any other. Lined up in even rows in factory shaped tins.
Yet this does not erase any of the magical properties. We stand captive to its siren song. We sail into the jagged shores when fresh pumpkin pies emerge hot from the oven. Or maybe it’s threaded into ice-cream and served with bananas foster beignet.
Damn you, Chef Harold!
We came for roast and you sent us home on a tall ship. The breeze from the Caribbean in our hair and bottle of rum teetering on the deck. We are both pilgrims and pirates this night.
If you have been arrested by the scent of nutmeg, by all means share. Pen you memories in the comment field. Let us experience your adventure. The rum is on us.