A nutmeg grater is a small device used to grate a nutmeg seed. They are typically crafted out of metal such as silver. They are also usually cylindrical, or half-cylindrical.
Upon opening the grater there is a surface which is perforated with small, rasped, grater holes. It is essentially a small grater, with a self-enclosed container to catch the shavings.
Nutmeg graters original emerged in England in the 17th Century. Initially the nutmeg grater was fitted into a cup or was incorporated within spice tureens. It wasn’t long before small silver graters were being carried around in the pockets of the gentry, along with travelling sets of tableware.
Nutmeg was primarily popular with the upper class, which often used it to spice punch, ales, or wines. It was used for medicinal purposes, but also as a culinary pleasure. The first pocket nutmeg grater was constructed as a simple cylindrical silver grater.
By the 18th Century there was more of a demand for extravagant nutmeg graters. Thus, the emergence of novelty nutmeg graters: crafted in an ever increasing variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. Also during this time, nutmeg graters were crafted in different materials such as tin or wood, to cater for domestic use.
By the 19th Century, the price of nutmeg declined, and more and more dishes demanded nutmeg as an ingredient. The price decline also meant that more people had access to nutmeg, and so the demand for nutmeg went up. Spice canister sets became a common household item, and these often included a nutmeg canister, and sometimes a plain grater.
During the latter part of the 19th Century, various mechanical nutmeg graters were introduced. This was primarily an American innovation. This meant that when significant quantities of nutmeg were needed the mechanical nutmeg grater could rise to the occasion. It was in 1850 when Albert Hadley a baker from Massachusetts teamed up with Edmund Brown to produce the ‘Brown & Hadley Rotary Nutmeg Grater’. It was designed initially for bakers, however the idea quickly caught the attention of William Bradley, who then produced a rival product and patented the mechanical nutmeg grater. The various mechanical nutmeg graters that emerged around this time are now some of the rarest and also most expensive variety of nutmeg grater.