Nutmeg and mace come from the same plant, yet nutmeg gets all the press. In fact, it's a multilayered story. Traveling through spice-rich India and Malaysia last year, I finally saw and understood. Nutmeg is the inner seed of a fruit about the size of a baseball.
The exterior of the fruit is leathery and brown, with a layer of firm white flesh just beneath. The flesh smells and tastes like nutmeg ― Malaysians like to candy it. Underneath that is a beautiful red, lacy layer of aril ― also called mace blades ― that cling to the thin, hard shell surrounding the nutmeg. This is the source of mace as we know it.
The relationship of nutmeg and mace makes it easy to use them interchangeably. Mace, available dried and ground, is as intensely aromatic as nutmeg but also has distinctive floral and fruity overtones, making it well suited to cakes and pastries. I love it in those made with apricots and peaches, both of which blossom when mingled with this spice.
One of the easiest and most delectable ways to appreciate mace is in a cobbler ― apricot or peach. And because cobbler crust can be manhandled without serious consequences, my grandsons, Henry (5) and Jackie (3), often join me in assembling this homey dessert. They pat out the dough by the handfuls, lay the lumps over the fruit, then seal them with a final "patty-cake." Child's play.