At Paris CDG airport a few years ago, I made my only splurge in France other than a big, fluffy white sweater: a stack of tins of Anis de Flavigny in every flavor. These old-school candies are fashioned in a sustainable way. I imagine Marie Antionette popping these during a long soak in the bathtub (OK, that’s not a sustainable image, and forgive the insufferable “when I was in Europe” start to this post. Zzz.).
Records show that the treats were given to travelers in 1591, but they may have been around for centuries longer. Here’s what I could translate from their sweet site: The staff of 25 works out of the precious-looking village of Flavigny, in an abbey built in 718. They get anise seeds from Spain, Turkey and Syria, and then roll them around and around in sugar snowballing for about 15 days until forming one-gram pastille confections. They use real sugar instead of skimping with cheap-o corn syrup like most soda pop makers do. The mouth-watering Candy Blog paid tribute recently:
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence)… The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Well-crafted candy can be medicinal, a work of art. Mais quelle horreur! Much of the postmodern world has lost its taste for artisanal, all-natural confections. Look how the FDA may try to pass off cocoa butter as true chocolate (hurry up and petition the government by April 25!). Sustainable sweet stuff is important in light of the obesity epidemic. For instance, former President Clinton chose to focus his speech before a crowd of educators in San Francisco this week on how the ever-growing heft of American children could collapse our healthcare system in the coming decades. So go ahead, be a food snob.
I’ll continue to budget as much as several dollars a day for real, dark chocolate, 65 percent and up, and I’ll down anything with a floral scent. When traveling through Paris, Venice and Rome back in the day, I scarfed my way through cone after cup after petite cone of ice cream and gelato in violet, lavender and rose flavors. Not a bad budget diet at $2 a pop. (Starving? Let them eat cake cones!) And one of my favorite all-time meals was a lavender-flavored pasta dish around quirky Bolinas, California.
Don’t crinkle your nose; these flavors are really no more radical than rosemary or peppermint. You can grow them in your windowsill and toss them into stir fries and stews. And hooray, floral herbs are surfacing more lately in mainstream American cooking.