The nutmeg tree is native to the Moluccas (The Spice Islands), although it is now also grown widely in the West Indies. Nutmeg is not a nut and, as such, is not a danger to people with nut allergies although, rarely, some people can be allergic to it.
Nutmegs are generally sold whole or ready-ground. One grated nutmeg measures approximately three teaspoons. The flavour of ground nutmeg deteriorates quite quickly, whereas whole nutmegs keep indefinitely and can be grated on a nutmeg grater when needed. It has a strong taste and too much can be harmful so a little goes a long way and less is used than other spices.
In baking, nutmeg can be used in custard tarts, fruit cakes, spice cakes, honey cakes, cookies and biscuits. It will complement apples and a little, along with cinnamon, can lift an apple pie or crumble. It also goes well in savoury dishes and a touch, added to an aubergine or mushroom tart or a vegetable crumble, will give a savoury, spicy twist.
Try making a wild mushroom tart and add a good pinch of nutmeg to the mushrooms, just as they are cooking in butter or oil, before adding to the rest of the filling.
Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine