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I may be in the minority on this board, but I don't consider food to be an art. Craft can (in fact should) be beautiful, but its beauty doesn't come from hanging a bunch of bric-a-brac off its ends.


You're not a minority of one, though.


Sorry just saw this. I was off buying socks for me sandals so I'd have a better sense of the process and mystique of being a mathematician.

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I liked the ritual. And the spoon (we had an antique one that was quite beautiful). Too bad I hated the taste, but I think of it as being like drinking Becherovka in Prague - everyone should give it a go.


I do think that there's a fetishization of this beverage that's gone beyond all reason, and that someone's going to make a boatload of cash from the mystique (and all the misinformation).


Rancho Gordo, if you grow wormwood, you have to grow the correct one: petite, not grande. There are a bunch of 19th century recipes about, if you're into distilling.


Sneak, I think you certainly should wear a powdered wig and dress like Thomas Jefferson when you drink Bordeaux. Really.


(I'm with monkeymay.)

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Not to quibble much with H. du Bois's eminently sensible posting:


Rancho Gordo, if you grow wormwood, you have to grow the correct one: petite, not grande.

Actually it's the other way around and is a little more complicated. Or rather, less. This is worth some detail because it raises yet another point that's newly clouded. First, traditional recipes republished in recent decades (including an 1855 recipe from Pontarlier, France -- origin point of large-scale absinthe production) specify two steps using relevant herbs. The first (main) herbal extraction uses (among other flavoring herbs) the eponymous Artemisia absinthium, common decorative and medicinal plant almost always called "wormwood" in US, occasionally "grand wormwood" or "grand absinthe" in foreign sources. After distillation, other herbs add green color, the relevant one is "Roman wormwood" in the recipe I mentioned, alternatively "petit wormwood" or "petit absinthe."


Currently, the wormwoodsociety.org FAQ file and the Wikipedia absinthe entry (which share authorship and are both much more recent than most sources I quote) introduce A. absinthium as "grand wormwood." Apparently some journalistic sources are copying this. It's unusual because a definitive US materia-medica reference, all editions I have of the standard international biochemical handbook, two authoritative pharmacology texts, three classic drinks reference books, Harold McGee, the American Heritage Dictionary, Conrad's classic 1988 US absinthe book, and virtually all other anglophone writing I've seen on absinthe liquors from the last 70 years all call the A. absinthium plant just "wormwood."

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Interesting. And it is a clouded area. I just looked at a portion of the thread over at eG, in which I'd mentioned that the absinthe I'd tasted (via a scientist who'd followed a 19th c. recipe) was, to my taste, incredibly bitter. I was told that this was probably due to: A) the scientist not using distillation (he sure did distill it - in my kitchen, no less!); or B) that he had used the incorrect wormwood. I asked him, he checked his notes, and had indeed purchased Roman wormwood (petite). That's why I cautioned Rancho Gordo about the correct kind to use.


I still don't know what proper absinthe is supposed to taste like - I've only ever had that (and didn't like it), and a couple of Czech kinds that could take the enamel off of your teeth.



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I'd mentioned that the absinthe I'd tasted (via a scientist who'd followed a 19th c. recipe) was, to my taste, incredibly bitter.
Which is the reason for the fancy spoon and sugar cube, right?

Actually no, and here's more about that, possibly of interest. (Sugar was to sweeten the otherwise dry liquor.)


Contrary to what I wrote about this on amazon.com 6.5 years ago (under Conrad's US absinthe book) -- encounter with extract of A. absinthium and its wretched, vivid bitterness dominated my thinking then -- no real absinthe I've tasted was memorably bitter, more like cousins of the other Pastis liquors (the wormwood-free ones), but more herbal and complex (and un-sugared, like traditional absinthes). My impression is that the curent round of artisanal distillers specifically crafts absinthes for pleasant unique tastes. They've cited early experiments with less palatable result, I think. Often with manufacturing, there's more to the story than an ingredients list and procedure outline as given in old absinthe recipes I've seen -- there are subtleties of technique, temperature, durations, ...


So I don't know what happened in that experimental batch of absinthe unless, if I'm understanding that the second herb ("Roman wormwood") entered a post-distillation maceration step per 1855 Pontarlier recipe I mentioned, that herb also contained absinthin, the bitter principle in A. absinthium responsible for my experience detailed above. More details in a couple of extremely relevant eG postings on absinthin and how you can learn more than you want to know via bitter experience.

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... A. absinthium and its wretched, vivid bitterness dominated my thinking then ...


You describe the experience extraordinarily well - it has been many years since I tried it, and the profundity of that bitterness is with me still.


I just checked an old email from my absinthe brewer, and he'd used the Scientific American recipe by Dr. Arnold, which is indeed based upon the 1855 Pontarlier recipe (I'd mistakenly thought for many years that the Pernod brothers were the source).

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I might as well add some botanical trivia here that I've rarely seen clarified (and never in writings on absinthe liquor).


Dozens of different plants have common names containing "wormwood," it's an ancient folk term. Many of these plants are in genus Artemisia, including so-called petit or Roman wormwood, Artemisia pontica, also called green ginger -- the one relevant to absinthe. But some "wormwoods" are even outside the large parent family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae). I see "Roman wormwood" applied informally to far-removed species.


A. pontica is known as a coloring herb in absinthe manufacture, one of several that can serve that purpose. It's not the defining herb everyone talks about (A. absinthium, main owner of the simple name "wormwood"). I've even seen "petit wormwood" named in one firm's documentation where they evidently meant A. absinthium instead. You can see the opportunities for cloudiness and confusion (origin of word "Pastis") even outside the glass.


And yet, that doesn't mean A. pontifica can't share some of the chemistry of A. absinthium. Many other herbs do, even less closely related.

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