Absinthe - Vivifying Elixir
Absinthe was considered a vivifying elixir long before it could be ordered in a cafe. When Madame de Coulanges, one of the leading ladies of the seventeenth-century French court, became ill, she was prescribed a preparation containing wormwood. When it calmed her stomach, she wrote to Madame de Sevigne, " My little absinthe is the remedy for all diseases."
Hippocrates recommended absinthe for juandice and rheumatism.
Ancient absinthe was different from the liquor that Verlaine and Picasso imbibed, generally being wormwood leaves soaked in wine or spirits. Most likely the word absinthe derives from the Greek word apsinthion, which means " undrinkable " presumably because of its bitter taste. Pythagoras recommended wormwood soaked in wine to aid labor in childbirth. Hippocrates prescribed it for jaundice, rheumatism, anemia, and menstrual pains. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder called it apsinthium in the first century A.D. and noted that it was customary for the championin chariot races to drink a cup of absinthe leaves soaked in wine to remind him that even glory has its bitter side. He also recommended it as an elixir of youth and as a cure for bad breath... Over the centuries, however, wormwood drinks moved away from being just bitter medicine. Independent distilleries were producing absinthe made from the dried leaves of wormwood steeped in equal parts of malmsey wine and " burning water thrice distilled." The " Purl " of Tudor England was compounded of ale or hot beer and wormwood, and although it was mainly popular with the working classes, Samuel Pepys reported in his famous diary that he had enjoyed several glasses of wormwood ale one night " in a little house...which doubtless was a bawdy house." These dusty tales convey something of the mystique surrounding absinthe; one imagines a flask of it sitting beside the alchemist's crocodile and the mandrake root. Absinthe incorporated Olympian legends of debauch and rather downhome peasant notions. Modern absinthe allegedly was invented in 1792 by an extraordinary French doctor called Pierre Ordinaire, who fled France's revolution to settle in Couvet, a small village in western Switzerland. On his periodic journeys by horseback, Dr. Ordinaire is said to have discovered the plant Artemisia absinthium growing wild in the hills of the Val-de-Travers region. Like most country doctors, he prepared his own remedies, and being acquainted with absinthe's use in ancient times, he began experimenting with it.
Dr. Ordinaire's recipe probably included the following herbs: wormwood, anise (Pimpinella anisum), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), dittany (Dictamnus albus), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), Melissa (a type of mint), and varying amounts of coriander, veronica, chamomile, parsley, and even spinach. The 136 proof elixir produced in his sixteen liter still became popular as a cure-all in town and early on was nicknamed La Fée Verte. On his death, he supposedly left his secret recipe to two Henriod sisters from Couvet, who then left it to a visiting Frenchman, Major Dubied, whose son-in-law was named Pernod, and the rest is history.
Absinthe comes to America
Absinthe soon found its way to the Little Paris of North America, New Orleans. The drink, which was spelled absynthe in an 1837 New Orleans liquor advertisement, enjoyed a vogue under such brand names as Green Opal, Herbsaint, and Milky Way. (Today, one can still find a version of this made without wormwood and marketed under the name Herb Sainte.) Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans's famed French Quarter, none has been more glorified by drunks and postcard photographers alike than a square, plaster and brick structure at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets. " The Old Absinthe House " with its scarred cypress bar was visited by many famous people: Oscar Wilde, Lafcadio Hearn, William Thackeray, Walt Whitman, Aaron Burr, and General P.G.T. Beauregard are just a few of the many who relaxed over a green absinthe in this shady retreat. Alexis, Grand Duke of all Russians, drank here, and the chairs once creaked under William Howard Taft's presidential bulk. The great O. Henry was just a struggling newspaperman named William Sidney Porter when he came to dream over an absinthe frappé
The Absinthe House
The building was constructed in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, two Catalans from Barcelona. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native Spain, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, clothing, and Spanish liquor. Relatives of the original owners turned it into an épicerie, then a bootshop. Finally, in 1846, the ground floor corner room became a saloon known as " Aleix's Coffee House," run by Jacinto Aleix and his brother, nephews of old Senora Juncadella. In 1899, the Aleix brothers hired Cayetano Ferrér, another Catalan, who had been a barkeeper at the French Opera House. In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place and renamed it the " Absinthe Room " because of the numerous requests he had for the drink which he served in the French manner.Stationed along the long cypress bar were marble fountains with brass faucets which slowly dripped cool water, drop by drop, over the sugar cubes perched above the glasses. Over the years, the place became known as " The Old Absinthe House." Absinthe was also drunk in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, which had a popular restaurant called the Absinthe House. Up until 1912, many of the more exotic bars in New York would serve an absinthe cocktail. One can imagine a piano player at one of these watering holes singing this Victor Herbert melody with lyrics by Glenn MacDonough:
I will free you first from burning thirst
That is born of a night of the bowl,
Like a sun 'twill rise through the inky skies
That so heavily hang o'er your souls.
At the first cool sip on your fevered lip
You determine to live through the day,
Life's again worth while as with a dawining smile
You imbibe your absinthe frappé.
The Absinthe Ban
But on July 13, 1907, Harperé s Weekly noted, " The growing consumption in America of absinthe, 'the green curse of France,' has attracted the attention of the Department of Agriculture, and an investigation has been ordered to determine to what extent it is being manufactuired in this country." Just five years later, on July 25, 1912, the Department of Agriculture issued Food Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in America.
Where can I buy real absinthe?
We offer real and authentic absinthe in our eshop as well as absinthe accessories including absinthe spoons, fountains, spoon holders, sugar holders, absinthe posters and vintage absinthe samples. We also sell vintage absinthe bottles.
Buy real, authentic Absinthe.
You may also want to visit our Absinthe Museum from the Val de Travers.
"History in a bottle" from Conrad Barnaby available on Amazon.com
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