Nutmeg and mace
Nutmeg is one of my favourite spices, one that we in this country have included in recipes throughout our history – think of a speckled brown custard tart, or the shiny nutmeg skin on a rice pudding.
It's curious how the French have ignored nutmeg, but the Italians and Spanish adore it as much as we do, using it in cheese dishes, pasta sauces and fillings, creamy béchamel and spinach. But a warning: you must never even think of buying nutmeg ready-ground, as it quickly loses all its charm. Instead always have some whole nutmeg and a grater, and grate it as and when you need it.
Mace is the outer casing of the nutmeg, resembling a thick meshed cage, which is dried and becomes brittle. It is sold in pieces (blades) and can be used in infusions, such as flavouring milk for a white sauce. Ground mace has also been included in British recipes for potted meats, shrimps and fish pâtés. It is impossible to grind it at home, so this one has to be bought ready-ground and the date carefully watched.
Born out of frugality (using up stale bread) this lovely pudding has, quite rightly, pushed itself to the top of the list when it comes to family favourites - and Delia's version is particuarly good.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
A lovely vegetarian recipe that would be ideal at Christmas. Cooking the mushrooms slowly in Madeira gives great depth and flavour, complemented beautifully by the cheese choux pastry.
This is the real thing – a mass of creamy rice and a thick brown speckled nutmeg skin. Don't forget to take a sharp knife and scrape off all the bits of caramelised skin that stick to the edges.
Making pickles is always satisfying as they are usually far better than anything you can buy, and their jewel colours cheer up the darker days of autumn. This is one of the best...