Saturday's trip to the KCC Farmer's Market yielded it usual bounty: locally grown mangos, Manoa lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans and assorted herbs (lemon basil, mint, cilantro). Mom and I split an order of the fried green tomatoes she was craving, served with a wasabi mayo and a lemon-basil mayo. A stop by the Wailea Agricultural Group booth also unearthed some more unusual finds--fresh spices that I don't often see outside of a spice jar. The Wailea Agricultural Group, from The Big Island, is the largest fresh Hawaiian Heart of Palm grower in America. They consider themselves "stewards of the earth" and practice sustainable agricultural practices. They sometimes bring tropical fruits and Meyer lemons to the market and this Saturday they also brought spices.
The strange looking "orbs" in the picture I posted yesterday are indeed fresh nutmeg, encased in mace as Rachel, Beach Bum, and Stephanie's Matt guessed. Its two, two, two spices in one! Nutmeg is the seed from the evergreen trees, Myristica fragrans, that are indigenous to Southeast Asia and Australia. Mace is the red "lacy" covering over the seed. (For more details and pictures look here).
When harvested, the nutmeg is encased in a yellowish fruit and the outer skin, flesh and mace are stripped off. The fruit is used in some countries to make jam or candy. The mace is removed, pressed flat and dried for a few hours, then stored in a dark cool place for several months where it will change color and becomes either orange-yellow or orange-red depending on the variety. It can then be ground in a spice grinder and used in both sweet and savory dishes. My spice book describes Mace as tasting "warm, aromatic, delicate and subtle with some lemony sweetness, yet it finishes with a potent bitterness. (My favorite spice book by the way is this one: Herbs and Spices: The Cook's Reference by Jill Norman--a great book with wonderful pictures)
Meanwhile the hard brown-black shell is dried for 6-8 weeks until the nutmeg kernel rattles in the shell. The shell is then cracked open and the nutmeg removed and stored until used--it keeps best whole and grated when needed. My spice book describes nutmeg as being "more camphorous and pine-like than mace, with hints of clove and a deep, bittersweet, woody flavor".
Nutmeg is not a favorite spice of mine, but the chance to dry and use my own locally grown nutmeg and mace and the fact they were $1.00 each made them too good to pass up. I'll post the results of my spice drying as it happens.
The nice guy at the booth also had some fresh bay leaves for $1.00 a stem. These are some huge leaves! He said to throw the branch on top of my refrigerator to dry, then strip off the dried leaves and store in an airtight container.
Hours of entertainment, really fresh spices, supporting a great local company and learning something new all for $3.00--I'd say that's a pretty good deal.