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Absinthe

     The people of Louisiana have long had a passion for mixed drinks; in fact, the very word cocktail is said to be a corruption of the word coquetier, or egg cup-the type of vessel that a New Orleans apothecary, A. A. Peychaud, used for serving mixed drinks nearly two centuries ago. Among the potables favored as a mixer in decades past was absinthe-a highly alcoholic (136 proof) green liqueur flavored with wormwood, anise and other aromatic herbs. The drink takes its name from the botanical term for wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, a plant whose medicinal properties had been highly prized since the days of the ancient Greeks; absinthe itself was originally a stomach tonic, concocted in Switzerland by a French physician, Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, who had fled to that country during the French Revolution. In 1797 Dr. Ordinaire's heirs sold the recipe for absinthe to Henri-Louis Pernod, who later bottled the drink commercially under the Pernod name. Its potency, flavor and reputation as a tonic (and aphrodisiac) made it popular in both Europe and Louisiana during the 19th Century. At one point, New Orleans was called the absinthe capital of the world.

     Too strong and bitter to be drunk straight, absinthe was customarily diluted with water. The correct ritual called for pouring the absinthe into a glass filled with ice, setting a specially designed perforated spoon on top of the glass and placing a cube of sugar in the spoon. Water was then poured slowly over the sugar and dripped through it to make the absinthe clouded or milky.

     By the early 20th Century it became clear that absinthe was dangerous. One of its ingredients, wormwood, proved habit-forming and the cause of convulsions, delirium, hallucinations, permanent mental derangement and even death. The sale of absinthe was banned in Switzerland in 1908, in the United States in 1912 and in France in 1915. The liqueur is nearly extinct today and its sale prohibited in most countries.

     When absinthe vanished from Louisiana, other anise-flavored drinks took its place. Among the local favorites are Ojen, imported from Spain, and an American-made liqueur called Herbsaint, first bottled commercially by a New Orleans apothecary named J. Marion Legendre in 1934.The Pernod Company, which long since stopped making absinthe, now produces instead a sweet, anise-flavored liqueur that contains no wormwood.

     Though asbinthe itself is gone, its name lingers on in such drinks as the Absinthe Suissesse and Absinthe Frappe, for which recipes are given here.
 






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