Category Archives: Travel

Spice Island of the Modern World.


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Years ago a photographer friend of mine mentioned to me he’d been to Zanzibar, he spoke of the island as if he’d found a little piece of heaven here on earth. He finished our conversation by saying ” You must go there Jode, it still operates like the spice island of the world”. I had just so happened to be reading a wonderful book called Nathaniels nutmeg which charts the history of the spice trade so my little ears pricked up. 
Zanzibar managed to become top on my list of spots to visit – as a foodie, there is a strange mysticism that surrounds spices. Wonderfully aromatic substances that have been traded as currency, cured diseases and been the cause of many a conflict, spices are the cornerstone of nearly every cuisine around the world. I like to think of them as the ingredient that add personality to a dish and I believe they say quite a bit about the personality of the cook using them. Fiery people like to add oomph to a meal with chilli, pepper and ginger and all those big note spices, whereas more reserved home cooks would tend to tread more softly and favor the more calming nurturing flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, added by the pinch rather than the tablespoon.
Anyway I have digressed from my Zanzibar tale. I eventually made it to Zanzibar, words cannot describe its beauty, so just do as I did, put it on your bucket list of must see places. It was here I saw for the first time in my life nutmeg being grown. The fruit looks very much like an unripe plum and when split open it reveals the seed (the nutmeg which is enclosed in a vibrant red sheath which is mace). Kept whole the blade of mace has a delicious slighlty pungent flavour and is most often used in slow simmered meat dishes, the ground powder is great with seafood . Mace is actually quite intriguing, Ian Herbie Hemphill writes that mace ” is the placenta that conveys nourishment from the fruit to the seed”.
Traditionally nutmeg is dried whole in the sun until the shell dulls and the seed rattles. If you love nutmeg I urge you to stop pussy footing around with it. Herbie says it is one of the few spices that is as good in the powdered form as it is whole. If you choose to use the whole nutmeg you can grate it on a microplane or fine grater, in fact I have a small metal grater which I set aside for this specific purchase.
This recipe I have adapted from the one in Ian “Herbie” Hempills Spice Notes book, which is one of the best books ever written on spices.
Nutmeg Cake
2 cups (250g) self raising flour
2 cups (500g) soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
150g butter
1 egg
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
Vanilla Marscapone
300g marscapone
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line the base and sides of 20cm cake tin.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, allspice, coriander into a bowl, stir in the brown sugar.
Rub in the butter using your fingertips until the mixture resembles biscuits crumbs.
Press half of this mixture into the prepared tin.
Whisk together the egg, nutmeg and buttermilk and add to the remaining flour mixutre, this will be very thin.
Pour this mixture over the crumb base.
Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.
Allow to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool – I love this cake warm.
To make the cream combine the marscapone, brown sugar and vanilla bean paste in a small bowl, serve a dollop of the cream with a generous wedge of the nutmeg warm nutmeg cake.