As a lifelong Nutmegger, yes that is what we from Connecticut are often called, I figured it was due time I paid attention to Connecticut inventions associated with this diminutive, yet powerful spice. First of all a short lesson in Nutmeg 101……
The spice Nutmeg is actually the seed of the Nutmeg tree, which is an evergreen native to tropical Southeast Asia. The tree produces a fruit from which we get two spices, Nutmeg and Mace. Mace is the lace like, reddish colored covering which grows over the seed within the fruit.
Today Nutmeg is grown in several parts of the world including Grenada which actually features an image of Nutmeg on its official flag. (Grenada is the second largest grower of Nutmeg, Indonesia is first.) Historically, Nutmeg was a much sought after crop. Thus, many conflicts occurred related to its cultivation and trade. The Dutch dominated the Nutmeg trade in the 17th century and of course had struggles with Great Britain for control of the trade for many years.
Nutmeg is used in many cuisines around the world including Middle Eastern, Indian, Greek and Japanese. The spice was very popular in late 17th and 18th century England where it became fashionable for a time for the “well to do” to wear small Nutmeg graters around their necks or tucked in small pockets. This was fashionable of course but also practical as fresh ground Nutmeg could mask the flavor of questionable quality food. Some of the small graters were made of silver and border on works of art in their design and execution. Prime examples bring high prices at auctions to this day.
Which in a round about way brings us to the Nutmeg State. Why, you may ask is Connecticut called the Nutmeg State? Several explanations exist. The most nefarious and interesting in my opinion goes like this……Back in the old days when peddlers traveled around our young country selling their wares (including spices such as Nutmeg) one or two of them from Connecticut figured out a way they could trick a few country bumpkins and earn themselves a bit of extra money. These ingenious Connecticut Yankees carved from wood fake Nutmegs and mixed them in with the real thing. So a customer would agree to buy several Nutmegs and not discover until he or she later grated one on their food that not all that looks like Nutmeg is in fact Nutmeg. Remembering that they bought these from a Connecticut peddler they made the association and began to call folks from Connecticut Nutmeggers. Thus a nickname was born. Of course little if any actual evidence exists to support this story……….
Of course most Nutmeg is real and to use it correctly in food preparation the right tool is necessary. In this case it is a Nutmeg grater. Connecticut inventors had their own ideas of how and what these specific graters should look like. A quick search of the Connecticut Patent Database turns up three inventor who in consecutive years, 1877, 1878 and 1879 received patents for their versions of Nutmeg graters. Each one is uniquely different.
Of the three, Hartford’s Silas Barker is the most ornate for such a utilitarian task. His grater features an image of a dog on the top of the grater. Perhaps the dog accompanied him in his workshop while he was perfecting the grater?
Henry Scheibel’s version of 1876 is of a more typical rotary style grinder. His invention was to furnish “for family, restaurant and other use an improved nutmeg grater, by which the nutmeg or other article may be quickly and conveniently grated, and used up entirely, without the least waste….”. He also stated that the grater “may be placed on the table to be used by everyone, as required, forming a handy and economical instrument for grating nutmegs and other articles with great facility and rapidity.”
Of course any talk of Nutmeg would be incomplete without a couple recipes to try. I think the Nutmeg Sugar Cookies and Honey Apple Pie would fit in quite well with any upcoming holiday gatherings. Any extras? Send em my way………