My new nutmeg grater.*

There is always that glint in the eye when they reach the gadgets section. They finger the strawberry hullers, the cherry pitters, the green-bean slicers and plastic lettuce knives. They study the pineapple corers, the six different sizes of meatball makers and the 17 different graters, wondering which one they can reasonably justify as a purchase right now. No worries. There’s always something that’s a must-have.

They are the gadget freaks and I recognize them because I am one of them. It started many years ago when I bought a French parsley mill because I liked the look of it. I hardly ever used it for parsley but found it to be a dandy garlic chopper and used it that way for many years before it finally fell apart on me.

I’ve had to dial down my gadget-seeking gene, if only because there is no more space in my gadget drawers (yes, that’s plural!). But I could not resist this one; a knuckle-saving nutmeg grater that also acts as a round little storage bin for the whole seeds.

Some years ago, I was thrilled to find a metal nutmeg grater that did the job perfectly, as long as your fingers didn’t get in the way, which they invariably did. And of course, forget about grating the nutmeg down to its last speck. I’ve no doubt thrown out a mountain of nutmeg ends by now.

But no more! This ingenious little device has a heavy-duty spring in the centre which keeps the nutmeg in place for grinding. Turn the crank and lovely, fragrant, fresh grated nutmeg wafts down. So easy! When no more comes out, it means there is no more . . . no more nutmeg, no more waste! The nutmeg seeds will last practically forever, but once they’re grated, that warmly flavoured, aromatic spice will quickly fade to expensive sawdust. That’s why it’s smart to grate only what you need when you need it.

Nutmeg is intensely flavoured so you don’t need much to perk up a whole variety of dishes. It was always a favourite with my Mom, who sprinkled it over freshly cooked, buttered peas. In fact, the Dutch — perhaps because they laid claim several centuries ago to the “Spice Islands” of Indonesia where the nutmeg grows and so they had access to a good and steady supply — use a liberal hand, sprinkling it into sausages and other processed meats, soups, sauces, baked goods, potatoes, green beans and cauliflower. The Dutch weren’t the only ones who loved this spice. It found its way into cuisines around the world, from Middle to Far Eastern, from Greenland to Greece. Moussaka wouldn’t be as good without it.

Nutmeg is ubiquitous in winter, when it finds its way into eggnog and hot buttered rum, or folded into a sweet tsunami of spicy Christmas cookies and a sleigh full of puddings. But it can add lively flavour to spring dishes, too. Try it over fresh peas or asparagus, or add some to rhubarb crisp.

Nutmeg is also part of a classic French spice mix called Quatre Epicé (2 tbsps. ground white pepper, 2½ tsps. grated nutmeg, 2 tsps. ground ginger and ½ tsp. cloves) which is used primarily to season meat dishes. Laura Calder (of French Food at Home TV and cookbook fame) mixes QE with chopped fresh rosemary as a rub for pork roast. Ian Hemphill, author of The Spice and Herb Bible, says he uses it as a nice alternative to plain ground white pepper to sprinkle over meats, soups and sauces. So if you haven’t been enthused about nutmeg in the past, it may be that you’ve been seasoning with old spice (no, not the smelly Man Stuff). Give the fresh-grated version a try and see if you don’t get that glint in your eye, too. Meet you in the gadgets section!

* The new nutmeg graters come in several styles and are available at kitchen and gourmet food stores for about $16.