The day I found mace

mace butternut squash sweet potato soup

Butternut squash and sweet potato soup with mace

They finally came.

Ten years later. Admittedly, it took time. But it does no longer matter now. The important thing is that it really happened. For real.

I am talking about my brother Benoit. And my sister-in-law Geneviève. We like to call her Ginou. Lulu prefers to say Ninou. She still cannot figure out how to pronounce Benoit so instead, she’s made up the word Ota. It’s cute!

Benoit and Ginou came with my mother–my father stayed back home in our village in France because he’s injured one of his fingers while building a table. “C’est arrivé en bricolant”, (It happened when he was puttering around) my mother told me the day I called and she said that he was in the hospital. I got scared. But he is ok now. My father is a tough man. He’s been like this his entire life. Like my grandfather. Un vrai fils de fermier.

Je garderai le chat et les maisons,” (I’ll look after the cat and the houses) he had added when I called to try to convince him to come too.

He is also known to be stubborn. In a nice kind of way.

We missed him.

But we nevertheless had fun.

So much of it. For two weeks (and that’s also why you didn’t see me here during that time.)

Lulu at ICA

It sounds common. But for me, it’s not. I’ve never had three members of my French family travel to visit me, us, in the States before. And do you know what? We did exactly what we always do when I visit them in France.

We cooked. We ate. We gathered in the kitchen. Often. We talked about food. A lot.

stuffed potatoes

We went for walks and visited the ICA museum, where Lulu loved to explore. We dined out and even indulged with a night at the symphony to listen to Dvořák. I had forgotten how it felt. So sweet. So special.

tarte aux pommes fines

Four or five of us in the kitchen felt cozy. Never crammed. With everyone participating–my mother is the best sous-chef one can imagine. I am lucky to have a family who loves to cook and eat as much as we do. And that doesn’t tire of it. Ever. Ça vous colle à la peau, (It runs in your veins) P. always comments when we gather. Le clan français, (the French clan), we like to joke.

Ten days went by quickly. It was marvelous to always have a table full, and cook and share many of the dishes I love. We ate spaghetti with Maine shrimp and zucchini; chicken with preserved lemon, olives and thyme; kabocha squash risotto; carrot latkes; arugula and fennel salad; crab and avocado verrines; and stuffed potatoes. I baked financiers, chocolate cakes, apple tarts, custards and fruit crumbles.

That’s not even everything that happened.

One day, too, I prepared my favorite Japanese dish that triggered oohh and ahhh amongst everyone. “This dish is at the top of the things you make,” P. added while eating spoonfuls of rice soaked in dashi broth.

And then, we ate soups. Many of them.

One day, it was this lentil soup; another day, this sunchoke soup.

And then there was butternut squash soup.

Maybe you’ll want to stop here. Butternut squash soup? Too easy.

Sure.

But this one. Oh this one!

Tes soupes sont toujours super bonnes,” (Your soups are always so delicious and tasty) Ginou said the day we sat at the table for lunch and I brought a pot of fragrant squash soup to start our meal. It had snowed heavily the day before, allowing us to plan for a joyful afternoon of play in the snow. We were probably even more excited to go sledding than Lulu.

Vraiment ?” (Really?) I said, blushing. “Merci !” She didn’t know it but her comment *really* made me happy.

J’ai un ingrédient secret,” (I have a secret ingredient),” I replied, smiling.

It was teasing her. But maybe not, after all. There was indeed that genius spice I had just found out about and fell in love with.

Quoi?” she went on.

Mace.

How come I had never heard about it before? I don’t even know the French word for it. Macis is what my online dictionary reads. No one knew what it was.

Are you anything like us?

In any case, now that I know about it, I am not close to forgetting about it.

Mace is simply wonderful: fragrant and full of body; sweet with strong hints of nutmeg.

I decided that the first time I would use it, I’d be making a soup that would taste sweet and have tons of character. I’d be making a soup that would be smooth and feel nourishing. Carrots, leek, sweet potato, parsnip, turnip and butternut squash cooked with fresh herbs and mace gave me exactly that irresistible scrumptious result.

Suffice to say that we licked our bowls of soup clean. Even Benoit who claims to only like les soupes avec des morceaux (chunky soups) asked for seconds.

I was proud to have a happily fed family. Simply. Around a bowl of tasty soup.

Okay, around these stuffed potatoes, apple tartlets and pear custards too.

Tidbits

  • An honor to have been interviewed by a journalist at the Chicago Tribune for an article about celeriac entitled Rooting for celeriac. Two of my recipes (and a picture) accompany the article. Thank you!
  • At the end of the week, we are traveling with Lulu, taking her to Ireland this time. So happy to go. So happy to be able to visit a farm there too, thanks to some of my Irish Twitter friends. Merci !
  • Multi root vegetable soup with mace

    You need:

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon butter
    • A few twigs lemon thyme
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 small yellow onion
    • 1 leek, white part only, chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • Half of one butternut squash
    • 2 turnips, peeled and diced
    • 2 parsnips, peeled and diced
    • 1 sweet potato
    • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
    • 1 kaffir lime leaf
    • 3 small pieces of mace
    • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
    • 4 cups chicken stock (or more if needed)
    • Sea salt and pepper
    • Heavy cream, to taste
    • Fresh parsley, chopped, to serve

    Steps:

    • In a large thick-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the ground coriander, thyme, onion and leek. Cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
    • Add the rest of the vegetables, the kaffir lime leaf and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
    • Cover the vegetables with chicken stock, mace, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender (about 20 minutes).
    • Discard the thyme and kaffir lime leaf and transfer the vegetables and broth to the bowl of a food processor. Puree finely. Add cream to taste and more salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve with fish roe (optional, I happened to have some and love the burst of salt it gives) and freshly chopped parsley.

    64 comments

    1. I can definitely associate with the missing of your relatives when they are gone! It never gets easier, does it?
      This lovely bowl of comforting soup would probably help, even a bit! :-)

    2. I can imagine mace would go with squash soup. Lovely photos of Lulu. When my boys were little we had a French babysitter called Beatrice. They pronounced her name as Beecher which we all called her eventually, even her friends.

    3. oh bea, i can only imagine what it was to have your family there, to wake up too, to enjoy cups of tea with. bea, can i just say how inspiring these colors are, so beautiful together and now knowing you both, amkes the picture of you too even more special and darling! oh, i needed this post so much this evening. merci est a bientot j’espere!

    4. I’ve never heard of mace, but now I’m completely intrigued! Thanks for sharing the wonderful time you had. The photo of you and Lulu is just stunning, love all your florals! Happy travels to you :)

    5. Must have been so nice to have your family with you! When my husbands family all came from France last year (a first for us as well, but it was for our wedding), we shared many meals together too, and spent most of our time cooking together and planning the next meal. I love the photo of you and Lulu, great patterns!

    6. Hey Bea,
      I like the shoulder bag you had in the picture. Can you tell me where you get it or the brand so I can look it up? thanks so much!

    7. A family reunion, so happy for you! The apple tarts look beautiful, so delicate. I imagine them to taste that way too, light, not too sweet, the true taste of the fruit coming through. I’ve made a lot of soups this winter too, maybe it’s because of all the snow, eh? You know, I’ve never tried mace either. I’ve always assumed it to be very similar to nutmeg, but now you’ve intrigued me. I simply must cook with it, soon. Another beautiful post Béa. Your photos tell such a sweet story. Lulu is a doll!

      P.S. I love Dvořák, the Slavonic Dances rock!

    8. I missed your column sooooo much!! tons of times everyday checking for new posts. Your recipes and your photos disconnects me a little bit from my hectic life.
      Mace? well, I doubt that here in the Caribbean found something like that… for now I’ll Imagine their smell and flavor :)

    9. Your family should come visit Boston more often, you’ve made our lovely city sound welcoming even during the snowiest of winters!

      Love the addition of mace, some of my family members don’t like nutmeg, but I can usually get away with adding a little mace instead.

    10. Oooh, mace is a fantastic secret! Sincere complimets from loved ones mean so much – even when they are just about soup! But good soup is such a rare treat!

    11. Je ne connais pas le mace, mais il va falloir que j’en trouve rapidement !! Par contre, je connais maintenant l’ICA pour l’avoir visité lors de mes dernières vacances à Boston : un vrai coup de cœur pour le lieu et pour l’expo de Mark Bradford ! Aussi, tu me donnes de l’espoir… peut-être que d’ici 7 ans, toute ma famille viendra me voir à Montréal ! ;-)

    12. Mace is the lacy aril covering the seed pod of the nutmeg fruit, and is brilliant scarlet when fresh. Although it dries to a dull orangey brown, it still adds flavour. Try putting a piece of mace in the pot when you cook rice.

      I’ve seen little kids cutting off the edible flesh of the nutmeg fruit (it’s eaten pickled), pulling off the mace and tossing the shell-covered seeds onto a drying rack while travelling through the Moluccas islands in Indonesia. Originally, the only place in the world you could find nutmeg (and, of course, mace) was in 5 small Moluccan islands.

    13. The mace must do wonders to add a subtle twist to the root vegetable soup. This may be the first time I’ve seen kaffir lime leaf added to a blended root vegetable and squash soup. That must create an intriguing flavor.

    14. I’m so glad you had a good time with your family. I still haven’t been to the ICA but am looking forward to visiting. Congrats on your article and have a great vacation in Ireland. Your dishes look wonderful too.

    15. You and your gorgeous daughter look fabulous from behind. Fabulous patterns and love the layering of colours!
      Bec Farquhar
      from becfarquhar.blogspot.com

    16. Je vois qu’on a le même amour pour le macis ;) C’est tellement plus fin que la muscade, n’est-ce pas? Irremplaçable dans ma cuisine depuis pas mal d’années…
      Comme d’habitude superbes photos Béa!

    17. J’aime beaucoup le macis (mais j’aime beaucoup la noix de muscade, dont le macis est l’enveloppe, donc c’est normal). J’aime en parfumer un riz au lait.

    18. Hola, no ser escriure ni anglès ni francès (ara et parlo en català) però et puc dir que m’agrada molt el teu blog i que et segueixo. El traductor no funciona gaire bé però més o menys s’entén.
      Moltes felicitats, guapa!

    19. I bought macis for the first time one year ago, I closed it in a jar and I was still waiting to find out how to use it! So I appreciated twice this post, not only for the light and colorful atmosphere that puts a spell on me every time, but also for the ideas about macis!
      I’m sure you’ll enjoy Ireland, can’t wait to see your photo reportage of one of the country I love the most!

    20. Have a wonderful trip in Ireland!!
      and thank you for making me discover the macis since I just love la noix de muscade.

      By the way, I try desperately to find the ingredients to bake your granolas but I have difficulties to find everything here in France.
      Could I send you an email with my questions?

      In the meantime, once again THANK YOU !!

    21. Hello Bea
      I love your food and your clothes are so cool. I love them!
      Keep up the good work
      Dora from Portugal

    22. Have you ever seen whole mace? It’s actually the outer lining of nutmeg, which explains the similarity in flavor. It’s stunning to look at – reddish-orange, it reminds me of the string easter eggs we’d make as kids by dipping kitchen string in glue and wrapping it around baloons. Anyways, you take such such such beautiful photos I’m sure you would do it justice!

    23. your pictures are amazing! I’d try to cook your soup this weekend and I’ll let yoo know how it went

    24. Ahhh, that last picture of you and your daughter made me smile – The bright colors and eclectic floral patterns were just too perfect!

    25. That is funny to me, as I’ve always known what mace is–or as long as I can remember my mother and my great-grandmother had it in their kitchens. I like it as a substitute for nutmeg, as I think nutmeg is often too strong.

    26. I absolutely adore your writing and your recipes (and happen to be a butternut squash addict) in general, but this blog hit so close to home. I’m an American expat living in Paris and it’s incredible how family time and cooking can be so closely related. While my tiny Parisian kitchen can’t quite handle all of your delectable recipes, I’m doing what I can and look forward to following your culinary adventure. So bisous from your pays natal to le mien and à bientôt j’espère on one continent or the other!

    27. Just recently I’ve become a devoted reader of yours. I LOVE your photos, all those lovely bowls and napkins and plates and everything. And today I was really delighted to see you use the same bowls I have just recently bought in Ikea (and tried taking pictures of soups in them:)). Thanks for the recipe!

    28. Great pictures as always!…and Mace it´s so good. We used it in Argentina almost as we use Nutmeg. Bea, I´m in love with your blog!!… great info always!… have a nice 2011!!

    29. Thank you *so* much everyone for the info on mace — someone even told me that in French, we say “La fleur de muscade”. So pretty. I have tons of ideas now on how to use it in desserts too. Made another lentil soup today and pouf, in it went mace!

    30. I’ve just planted a lime tree, it’s still small but I am going to use the leaves next time I make this soup, so looking forward to the new twist of flavour. Thank you.

    31. Your posts make me happy. Simple, endearing, so heartfelt. Thank you x

    32. Bea, j’adore votre blog, vos recettes… Je me permet de forwarder votre poste a mon amie Kate Spain, qui est la creatrice de ces magnifiques assiettes bleue….

    33. BEAUTIFUL post–the writing, pictures, story, everything. It makes me want to live your life. I also really want all of the other recipes! It all sounds amazing!

    34. So happy to hear that you could spend some happy moments with your loved ones from France! It’s always wonderful when you can share your love for food with other people. Food connects, right?

      Never heard about mace before. I looked in the dictionary and it’s translated to “nutmeg flower” in Finnish. It sounds like a really wonderful spice. Have to look if I can find some around here…

    35. Mace is commonly used in soups in Holland and Belgium so I happen to have it in my kitchen cupboard.
      Kafir leaves is a different story here ( Ihave to travel for those for 50 km!).

      Enjoy Ireland, it is so beautiful!

    36. Nice website, great ideas…enjoy Ireland and send my regards to the Irish from the one who got away…well as far as France that is….got to start teaching Lulu Irish now…Slan,

    37. Pingback: Multi root vegetable soup with mace | La Tartine Gourmande » Whitney's Recipes

    38. What a lovely blog you have. I am new to reading blogs and am really enjoying discovering new writing. Here in England we use Mace in both baking and making puddings, it is readily available in supermarkets both as you have it, or already ground. As several people have said, it is the outer shell of the nutmeg, and is really delicious, I am going to bake some squash this evening, so will try some mace sprinked over it. thanks for suggesting such a great combination.

    39. what’s P’s favorite japanese dish? I love dashi…am totally intrigued.

    40. Hello! I am so pleased to have just stumbled upon your blog — it is just BEAUTIFUL. And an added bonus — je suis en train d’ameliorer mon francais pour un examen, alors ton blog c’est aussi tres utile! One thing — I believe the link for your Chicago Tribune article is broken. I look forward to following you and your beautiful writing!

    41. Bonjour,
      Je vis près de Boston et me suis renseignée chez mon épicerie soit-disant fine et le magasin ne vend pas de macis, la vendeuse du rayon épice ne connaissait même pas. Où l’avez-vous acheté ?
      J’en profite pour vous dire que j’ai fait votre gratin dauphinois deux fois et que nous nous sommes régalé. Sur la liste des recettes qui me tentent : le far breton ce week-end, la soupe ‘butternut squash… au macis’ et cet été le clafoutis à la ratatouille.
      Merci,
      Claire

    42. I love mace, and make it into a homemade extract using mace, vanilla beans, tonka beans and sapote. I fill the bottle with rum and let it sit for 2 months. It smells and tastes like my idea of heaven!
      :)

    43. Bea many times I didnt come and I love your pictures, and what lovely are your daugther! lovely pictures, huggs gloria

    44. Merci encore à tous pour vos commentaires. Thanks everyone. I love your suggestions. I forget who asked but I found mace in Boston at Formaggio’s, in Cambridge.

    45. And oh, the Japanese dish is fish with a scrumptious rice and soy/wine broth, and lots of other yummy things. I will have to blog about it….

    46. Hi bea. I have a quick question regarding the beautiful apple tarts I see. Have you baked them and if so, how do your apples look so crisp and well….inbaked? Is there a trick because whenever I bake mine, they shrivel up slightly and change color! Would love to know the trick! Thanks

    47. I made this soup during the week with a few substitutions, but I was able to find the mace. Thank you for such a good Winter recipe, and a new spice to try. I have been enjoying your blog the past couple months!

    48. Hi Bea! I love, love, love your blog! You are such an inspiration to us all. I really like your white dot cake stand with the dome lid on this page. Mind telling me where you found it? Thanks!

    49. Clarice, I am glad. I hope you liked it.

      Cindy, I bought the cake stand at Geneviève Lethu. A French kitchen store.

    50. Pingback: We ate watercress salad | La Tartine Gourmande

    51. You can find the article in the Chicago Tribune (after “Page Not Found” comes up when clicking the link) by typing in the letter “B” in their search options. Scroll for the name “Beatrice”, click, and it’s the 2nd article. Enjoy!

    52. Pingback: Round and Round | 50years50recipes

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