“Nothing in Nature’s sober found, But an eternal Health goes round.
Fill up the Bowl then, fill it high—Fill all the Glasses there; for why
Should every Creature Drink but I? Why, Man of Morals, tell me why?”
– Abraham Cowley, poem from Anacreon II. Drinking (Mid 17th Century)
1 part Courvoisier’s VSOP Exclusif
3 parts Cranberry juice
½ part Lemon juice
1 part water
10 Dashes Angostura bitters (per litre)
½ part Port
1 part Honey
Whole Cloves and cinnamon (to taste)
Bunch Dried Raisins
Add freshly cut lemons into a pot with whole cloves, cinnamon stick and raisins. Stir in the remaining ingredients holding back on the Courvoisier Exclusif till later. Simmer on a low heat until warm and aromatic and then turn off the heat and sit for 5 minutes with a lid on to infuse flavours further. Pour all contents into a punch bowl stirring in the cognac to finish. Serve in ambient insulted cups with lemon slices, cloves and raisins
Spice…..the final frontier.
If you’ll excuse the lame star trek pun, the association is quite fitting. However unlike Kirk, the Enterprise and his pointy eared friend, the adventures of discovery “to boldly go where no one has gone before” can be said of the ships and captains involved in the spice trade during the 17th century, even more so was the effects of these adventures which helped shape much of the modern world today.
The 16th century saw much of the worlds power roughly divided amongst the nations with the greatest might at sea. These were the British, Portuguese, French, Spanish and Dutch with the Americas still greatly to be settled. One of the great currencies of the day was spice, and quite simply whoever controlled the greatest supply of spice from the Indies to mainland Europe could greatly influenced the economies on many developing countries. Amongst the many exotic materials, plants, teas, animals and slaves to be had where the rich and mysterious spices which were favoured in the dishes of the times. Amongst these, the humble nutmeg. Or was it? This essential flavouring agent (and natural hallucinogen) saw some of the highest prices paid (around 300% of the purchase price) and yet it wasn’t until 1511 when a Afonso de Albuquerque captured the key trading port of Malacca (on the southern coast of modern-day Malaysia) on behalf of the King or Portugal, that the origins of the nut where first discovered.
Off the coast of Indonesia is a small community of islands amongst which the Banda’s are located and with them the only source of nutmeg on earth – the 3km x 1km wide island of Run. Over the next century the Dutch monopolised the international supply of the nut by bullying out the Portuguese and establishing a global trading conglomerate in 1602 under one company banner named, The Dutch East India Company or VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). The VOC however never made an official claim on the key island involved. Naturally the secret was out and the British Empire, not willing to let the spice go without a fight, laid official claim to the island under British rule in 1616 establishing close relations with the islands inhabitants and offering to purchase the spice for a higher price than the Dutch. Naturally after almost a century’s monopoly, the now well established VOC were not pleased and quickly ousted the English in 1620 beginning a conflict which would later develop into the first of three wars fought over control of the island and its lucrative resource.
A decade earlier, the Hudson Bay area (around modern-day New York) had been discovered and chartered by a Captain Henry Hudson (yes the same) as a representative of the Dutch East India Company. A fortified settlement was established on the southern tip of present-day Manhattan Island called New Amsterdam offering protected access to the Hudson River and a lucrative fur trade. The English however had also begun settling communities around the Americas and equally had their eyes on the strategic importance of the area of New Netherlands (New York). The Dutch and English proceeded to engage in a series of wars over the next 60 years in a mighty tug and war battle to control the key trade routes of the world. By the end of the second Anglo-Dutch war, the Dutch were back in possession of Run with the English in New Amsterdam. The Treaty of Breda was signed in 1667 which agreed that these two islands would remain in the hands of their current conquerors. The area of New Amsterdam, now in the hands of the British, was renamed New York after the Duke of York (later King James II) under whom the island was taken. Unfortunately peace did not last long and during the third Dutch-Anglo War a fleet of 21 Dutch ships of the line retook the American island in 1673 renaming it for the third time as New Orange. The hold wasn’t to last and by the following year a new treaty was signed ending the wars for good and re-establishing the original agreement – trading the island of nutmeg for the island of Manhattan. I wonder what the Dutch East India Company would have to say about that deal now?
More Nutmeg Madness:
- The American state of Connecticut is nicknamed the “nutmeg state” after a legend that some early traders would sell fake nutmegs which had been whittled from wood. A “Nutmegger”, was term used to describe a fraudster.
- Nutmeg and Mace come from the same fruit (Mace is the dried lacy red shell which surrounds the nut inside) and while popular in producing a rich taste in foods and early punch recipes, has a mild poison named myristicin which is a natural deliriant or hallucinogen.
- During the time of the Spice Wars it was not uncommon for settlers and traders in the Indies to mix nutmeg into their snuff boxes for an extra fix.
- The “Autobiography of Malcolm X”, speaks of getting high on Nutmeg while serving time in jail.
- During the Victorian era, it was common for the middle and upper classes to carry around nutmeg in silver or pewter grater tins allowing them to enhance any foods or punches they imbibed to their own tastes while also showing their wealth at having nutmeg available at their own desire.