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.