There is no flavor that reminds me more of my mother than anise. She is the only person I know whose favorite candy is soft black licorice. Anything that even hints of anise makes her close her eyes and breathe deeply: Ellen Fata’s frosted anise Christmas cookies, the Lebanese fig jam we’re making this week. Needless to say, we are not one of those homes that finishes all but the black jelly beans.
Mom’s devotion to anise goes back to her very early childhood, so it’s easy to see why it is a flavor that resonates. Her father, Richard Abowd, was a candy maker (I can’t wait to tell you more about that). He had a little candy shop and in the shop he had candy that was scooped from glass vessels. You picked your candies and he put them into a paper bag, and off you went popping one candy after another into your mouth. Even though Richard moved on to another business, a hotel, by the time my mom came along, he kept up his tradition of bringing home sweets. That always included bags of black licorice, so I gather that eating anything flavored with anise transports my mother back to her home on Maple Street, where her memories remain most vivid.
Aromatic anise is trademark Lebanese, in our sweets but also in our drink. Like potent and delicious Arak, which is better left for a post on another day (or late evening) when we’ll take a few burning sips straight up and talk about what’s on our minds. Meanwhile we’ll settle for a few generous tablespoons of aniseed in our fig jam and talk about what’s on our minds nonetheless, while eating it straight up with a spoon.
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Well now you know two people that like soft back licorice. I think it is a waste of calories to eat the red so called licorice (which my wife prefers). A boy hood friend hates the anise flavor, I once bought him a bag of black jelly beans as a joke.
I find Arak too strong, not alcohol strong (which it is also) but anise flavoring strong. Over the years I have taken to adding a little sweet Anisette Liquor to vodka, it is much sweeter and easier to drink, also you can vary the anise flavor strength by using more or less Anisette. You can also dilute it with water if straight vodka is too much.
Which reminds me of my own unique invention. You have heard of B and B of course (Benedictine and Brandy). Well you are now privileged to know the inventor of B and A, which is something I started to do years ago along the lines of adding Anisette to vodka. I just add a bit of Anisette to Brandy and call it B and A! Again you can vary the strength and it is very good!
As long as I am giving my secrets away I will also throw in a personal addition that I manage when making barbecue sauce. I start with “off the shelf sauce”, a two or three bottles, add half a jar of grape jelly for sweetening and thickening, onion flakes, garlic powder, just about anything you feel like throwing in…..but the secret is adding fennel seed! I got that idea because I love the taste of the fennel (sort of a mild anise taste) in Italian sausage….used in pizza. I simmer the whole batch in a sauce pan while grilling the meat and brush it on at the end of the grilling as the meat starts to cool down over a lowered flame. You would be amazed at how it sticks to the meat (because of the grape jelly I suppose), and the fennel seeds by then have softened and have given up their flavor to the sauce.
Maureen, if your grandfather Richard was a candy maker, why haven’t you by now copied the Mackinaw Island fudge maker’s secrets? (There are about 15 fudge shops on Mackinaw if I remember right, maybe it was 50). You promised!!!
best, Jerry Wakeen
I like black licorice as well, but I’m lebanese and I love Arak. i enjoy your posts
Thank you Paul! Arak is soooo gooood!!