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Pastis, A Drink For A Relaxing Afternoon In The South Of France
You're in a hammock, gazing lazily over the Cote d'Azur. A glass of pastis in one hand, the other hand dangling in the tall sweet grass. The warm air drifts in from the mediterranean past the ancient stone walls and rustles the silver green sun filtering branches over your head. You have resolved to never set foot in the 'rat race' again.
And even if you can't stick to your resolve forever, at least enjoy the moment with your glass of pastis. It is a drink to be enjoyed leisurely, and since it has a rather potent alcohol content, it should not be rushed. It is best lightly sipped and even put down out of view a time or two, drawing out the ritual.
Pastis, in case you are wondering is a very popular drink in Provence. Seen on many beverage menus of U.S. restaurants as well, pastis is a licorice or anise flavored spirit meant to be enjoyed slowly.
Pastis is descended from the notorious absinthe, a mind numbing distillation popular in France until early this century. Absinthe was banned in France in 1915 and was blamed for murders, criminal unsanity, and even of Van Gogh's hacking off of his own ear. Despite the colorful vintage posters, absinthe is ugly stuff, and although can still be had by foolhardy risk takers, it is advised to stay clear of it. Pastis is the sane descendent.
Pastis is made from alcohol and distilled herbs or herbal extracts. Chief among them is grand wormwood and green anise; and almost always including three other herbs - petite wormwood, fennel and hyssop. Star anise is sometimes substituted for the green anise.
Pastis with its sweet licorice taste should be taken from a tall narrow glass. Add some ice cubes and slowly pour the pastis over the ice. Then add water. The general measurement is 1/3 pastis and 2/3 water. Then you can add more ice as you go along - many prefer up to 4 parts water to one part pastis.
It is considered a daytime drink and a real thirst quencher. It can be mixed with grapefruit juice for a sweet-tart flavor. A handful of crisp almonds is a good accompanient.
There are several brands sold in the United States, many distinguished by the variety of spices added, like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper and nutmeg. Among the brands available here are Pastis 51 - very viscous and pungent; Ricard, a popular pastis in the States similar to Pastis 51; Baldanis, dry with the essence of anise; and Jean Boyer, a dry aromatic bouquet said to contain 24 herbs and 12 spices. There is also a non alcoholic pastis called Pacific. Pernod is another brand that is handled like pastis but is not really pastis. It is actually distilled from a wine flavored with anise, fennel and other herbs. It tastes similar and is served in the same way as pastis.
Enjoy a pastis on your next afternoon sojourn. If even on your own back porch, sit back, tip your drink and enjoy the scents of the warm mediterranean summer breeze as it slips over the lavendar Provence fields and meandering stone walls just a little bit beyond the horizon.
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