“Nutmeges be good for them the whiche have colde in theyr hed, and dothe comforte the sygt and brayne, & the mouth of the stomacke, & is good for the spleene.”
Andrew Boorde. A Compendyous Regiment 1542.
Nutmegs are generally considered (in the 17th century, that is) to be hot and dry in the 2nd degree, which means not too hot or dry). In modern science they are found to be aromatic, carminative, hallucinogenic, stimulant.
How does the price of nutmegs compare to other spices? Here’s the rates in Ireland for Grocer’s wares (which includes spices) in 1624, as quotes in Fooles and Fricassees (p. 40-1 Folger)
Cloves the pound iiij.s
Mace the pound v.s
Nutmeg the pound ij.s.vjd.
Cinamon the pound iij.s iiijd.
Pepper the pound xxd.
Ginger the pound vjd.
So how this reads is s = shillings, d = pence, i and j = one, v = five and x= 10. So cloves are 4 shillings the pound – that’s fairly costly. An ordinary pair of shoes might cost between 3-5 shillings. Mace (which is the outer coating of the nutmeg) is at five shillings a pound, which is probably why it often used at the end of cooking and placed on top – if you’re using mace, you want people to know just how much you think of them! Then nutmeg – 2 shillings 6 pence the pound, cinnamon 3 shillings 4 pence the pound, pepper is 20 pence the pound and ginger is 6 pence the pound.
And then the breaking news story of 1624 : the Massacre at Amboyna. Which inspires a ballad, a play (at least one), a painting of the tortures, sermons and pamphlets, riots….. and Dutch monopoly on cloves, and an increase in the price of nutmegs.
In terms of cooking, nutmegs show up in dishes of whitemeats, i.e. milk and egg dishes….which continues today every time you sprinkle nutmeg on eggnog. They also show up on fish – back to the cold and wet being modified by the warmer and dryer….and, in Dutch recipes, on dishes of vegetables.
To Stew Cauliflower and Savoy Cabbage.
One takes Cauliflower or Savoy cabbage after it has been cleaned and cooked until well done and stew it with Mutton-broth, whole Pepper, Nutmeg, Salt, without forgetting the excellent Butter of Holland. A hardboiled egg yolk which has been rubbed fine is sometimes placed underneath.
- Peter Rose, The Sensible Cook p. 48
Tags: 17th century recipe, Amboyna, Andrew Boorde, butter of Holland, cauliflower, cinnamon, cloves, cooking, dutch, ginger, hard boiled eggs, mace, mutton broth, nutmeg, pence, pepper, Peter Rose, Savoy cabbage, shillings, The Sensible Cook, whitemeats