Venue: The Indonesian Embassy, 30 Great Peter Street, Westminster London SW1P 2BU
European explorers reached the Banda Islands, the eastern Indonesian archipelago that is home to nutmeg and mace, in 1519. Within 150 years there was not only a global trade in the spices but aficionados were commissioning and collecting objects related to nutmeg from pocket graters to storage boxes.
In the second of three society events on the theme of spices, Dr John Reckless, author of the book published last year Nutmeg: Graters, Pomanders and Storage Boxes, gave an illustrated talk on the objects associated with the spice.
Seeking spices from ‘the East’ was one reason for Europe’s world exploration from the end of the 15th century. Portugal’s Captain Abreu went east around the Cape of Good Hope, reaching the Banda islands in 1519. By 1600 the Dutch and British were also sailing to the Spice Islands.
By the 1680s a sudden fashion for silver pocket nutmeg graters was spreading rapidly in London. In continental Europe, flat rasps continued to be used for nutmeg, ginger, and tobacco. The development of these specific nutmeg graters outside Britain was not as sudden, but they did gradually enjoy worldwide exposure. There is a clear comparison between luxury and utility in these small objects.
Major conflicts resulted in the Dutch East India Company controlling much of the 17th-century spice trade from its headquarters in Batavia, now Jakarta. At the same time, the British, whose activities were concentrated in India, exchanged an interest in the Banda island of Rhun for New Amsterdam, now Manhattan.
During this period, nutmeg was greatly sought after, costing more than its weight in gold. The spice was considered to have protective powers against pestilence and the recurrent European plagues. Consequently, apothecaries made expensive balsams to fill small portable pomanders.
Estate managers returning from the Spice Islands may well have planted the first nutmeg trees before 1850 on the Caribbean island of Grenada, a British colony. These plantations increased supplies in Europe and America, and extended the use of nutmeg beyond the nobility. In addition, the use of the spice appeared to have substantially influenced social beliefs and customs.
This talk explored personal and table graters manufactured in various materials.
Dr John Reckless is a retired consultant physician and endocrinologist. He developed his interest in antique kitchenalia four decades ago and has collected items from around the world.
Over 30 years ago he found a cast-iron nutmeg grater made in America. From this lowly beginning, he began collecting graters and all sorts of nutmeg-related ephemera. In 2012 he visited the Banda Islands.
The research in this area over many years led to his 2022 book about nutmeg. During his medical career, Dr Reckless taught medical students in the Caribbean and also visited Grenada’s nutmeg industry.
Nutmeg on the Move: Objects of the International Nutmeg Consumer by Dr John Reckless
Click here for recording of past event