Today, March 16th …
France outlawed the sale of absinthe on this day in 1915. The drink that the New York Times called “the most pernicious and treacherously fascinating of all alcoholic stimulants” had already been banned in several countries. France however was reluctant to vanquish the drink that was so closely associated with the artistic life, the “green fairy” that Lautrec, van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Picasso, Hemingway, Wilde and many others painted, wrote about, and drank to assist the muse. Then in 1905 a man called Jean Lanfray shot his pregnant wife and two daughters (and failed to kill himself), after consuming a huge amount and variety of alcoholic drinks. France was shocked, absinthe got all the blame and the outcry against it became impossible to ignore.
Part of the allure of absinthe was its colour - bright green turning milky yellow when water was trickled into it through the special perforated spoon that was also part of the mystique – and part was due to its supposed psychoactive properties - it contains thujone, a hallucinogenic similar to the active ingredient in marijuana. In reality the alcohol content will do the damage long before you can get enough hallucinogen.
Absinthe is legal again, but if you prefer the aniseed/liquorice flavour in your food, try this eighteenth century recipe.
From “The cook’s and confectioner’s dictionary” (1724)
To stew a Filet of Beef the Italian Fashion.
Take the Skins and Sinews from a Filet of Beef, put it into a Bowl with White-wine, crush it in it and wash it well; then strew upon it a little Pepper, and a Powder called by the Italians Tamara (which is made of one Ounce of Aniseed, an Ounce of Cinnamon, and an Ounce of Cloves, beaten into a gross Powder, with a little Powder of Winter-Savoury; these all kept in a Glass-Vial) and as much Salt as will season it; mingle all these well together, and put in as much White-wine as will cover it; put a Board on it to keep it down, and let it lie in steep for two Nights and a Day; then take it out and put it into a stew-pan with some good Broth, that is not salt, but none of the Pickle [ie. the marinating liquid] ; put in whole Cloves and Mace, cover it close, let it stew till it is tender, then serve it with as much of the Broth as will cover it.
Tomorrow: For Daynty Sirrups and Grand Sallets.