Time for Summer Pastis!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pastis bottles are on their way to Mignonne straight from France! I located a small lot at a brocante last week-end.

Not only do these bottles make fun design accents, they are a fun addition to your bar if you indulge in that favorite summertime apéritif ... pastis. Serve your drink in a tall slim glass, and the water in your Pastis bottle to make the best presentation.

These charming bottles also make a great conversation piece to your dinner table when entertaining. Intersperse them as water carafes for your guests to help themselves from.

Now ... a little more about the subject at hand ... P A S T I S !

Pastis consists of alcohol, star anise, both black and white pepper corns, cardamom, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, licorice and a little sugar. Each distillery has its own secret recipe and variation. When you order pastis in a French cafe, you will be served your portion in a long tall glass accompanied by a carafe of water. Your pastis will become milky white and cloudy as you mix it with water (1:5 ratio). Pastis is called the milk of Provence. If your liquer or water is chilled no need for ice, although some prefer it.

Pastis is the perfectly refreshing summer cooler and must never be enjoyed in a hurry. The enjoyment of the drink is enhanced by the ritual of preparation ... and your guests will enjoy learning to savor the pastis you serve them.

Absinthe was the start of pastis. Outlawed in France in ...., it is now enjoying a resurgence throughout Europe and the states.

In 1755, it was Marie Brizard whom made a sweet anisette in Bordeaux, France, but the famous Absinthe, with a much stronger anise taste, came from Jura, a mountain range on the border between Switzerland and France. It was Henri-Louis Pernod, the founder of the Pernod company, that made this absinthe elixir, mixed with water, a great success all over the world.

Around 1915, when Absinthe became the scapegoat of the temperance movement, it was labeled as the root of all evil. Almost immediately after the prohibition of absinthe, the pastis was first made. This drink is colored and caramel has been added for taste, but the main characteristic is still the anise taste. Pastis is still the most consumed spirit in France, today.

Paul Ricard’s father was a wine merchant in Marseille and took his young son to many a bistrot where pastis was essentially “brewed” in the back of the shop. Paul decided to distil his own and sell it to bistrot owners. His pastis was like many others but he added an ingredient others lacked – promotion and clever marketing. He called his pastis “Le vrai pastis de Marseille”, and soon it became the best known, best selling pastis in the city.

Pernod and Ricard joined their operations in 1975. Pastis 51 with its distinct liquorice flavour of aniseed is the number two spirit in France. The popular brand has a convivial image as it is enjoyed by friends when they get together, especially in the southeast of France where Pastis 51 originated.

There are many stories and tales concerning the history of pastis.

Pastis, a Marseillais will tell you, was invented by a curious and experiment-happy monk in a monastery kitchen, concocting recipes to find the “elixir of life”. Somehow monks seem to have an affinity to alcoholic inventions, from Dom Perignon to Benedictine and Carthusian monks. The Benedictine monks invented the eponymous liqueur and Carthusians Chartreuse yellow and green. Benedictine and Chartreuse both are still produced by monks using their secret recipes. Only a few privileged monks know the full recipe.

Scholars specializing in researching the origins of alcoholic beverages attribute the invention of pastis to a hermit who lived in a hut in the forest on the slopes of Luberon in southern Cotes du Rhone. He collected herbs, which he stewed in a giant pot. The juices left in the cauldron after boiling had remarkable properties, including quenching his thirst, and protecting him from an outbreak of plague that was threatening to decimate the population of Luberon. Since he was a generous philanthropist, he shared his mixture with sufferers, who immediately recovered. He then, in a quick decision to reverse his seclusion, moved to Marseille and opened a bar. This is the most unlikely story but also the most popular as such stories go!

The less picturesque but more plausible reason for Provence being the home of pastis is that ingredients grew wild around the villages and were easy to obtain. Most farmers made their own wine and distilled their own potent liqueurs. Until recently the right of distillation was a family asset that could be passed down from father to son. There are still families that distill their fabulously strong pastis maison.

Although now Pernod-Ricard is one of the biggest distilling concerns of the world, there are still many small producers with strong followings not only in Provence but also in other regions of France. Berger, Bardouin, Casanis, Janot, and Granier are the most important of the small distilleries.

Pastis is a charming drink – the first glass invites the second and very often the second the third. But be careful, very careful, it is insidious before you know you may need help to walk unless you are a Provencale.

*thanks to www.cocktails.in.th and foodreference.com for help with the history lesson!



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