Thursday, June 21, 2012

A is for Anise

I’ve always loved anise flavor, in any guise. Many of my early taste memories revolve around anise. As a little kid back when it was fun to be a little kid, I had plenty of freedom to explore my world by myself.  Remember those days when you had free reign of the block until you heard your mother yell up and down the street that dinner was ready?

Fennel by visualdensity on Flickr

All that running through the neighborhood tired me out. My favorite way to catch my breath was to flatten a hiding place in the tall grasses and wild fennel that seemed to forest Berkeley’s empty lots. I’d snap off a stalk of wild fennel and lie hidden in the grass. The fennel plants, with their lacy green foliage and bright yellow flowers, drooped over me. I stared at the sky, crunching the stalk between my teeth, releasing the peppery sweet cleansing flavor.

Not everyone liked anise. I could usually find someone more than happy to trade his black Chuckles square for my green one. That green square, incidentally, was lime. I always wondered—it just tasted like bad green flavor to me.

At the movies, while other kids cemented their teeth together over Milk Duds, Jujubes, or Sugar Babies, I tended to buy a box of Good & Plenty. Not because I didn’t like those other candies—I liked them fine (and my friends knew I’d take any black jujubes off their hands). It’s just that the pink and white Good & Plenty were fun to eat. I’d nibble off the candy coating, and then have a nice piece of licorice to suck on.

cake in pan

I quickly learned that if I bought licorice instead of chocolate I wouldn't have to share as much of my candy. ‘Aha’ moments are supposed to be life-changing moments when you gain sudden clarity and insight. I suppose the realization that liking licorice afforded me more candy at the theater was my first ‘aha’ moment.

rhubarb upside down 4

Maybe the moment when I first saw the recipe for Rhubarb Anise Upside Down Cake on Epicurious (it was originally in the April 1999 issue of Gourmet—which I still miss, but that’s another story) was another ‘aha’ moment.

The cake was fun to make. Aren’t all upside-down cakes fun? First you get to melt brown sugar and butter (one of my main childhood hobbies—why did I ever give that up?). Then you get to arrange the fruit in a pleasing pattern.

Rhubarb upside down 2

And it was fun to turn out of the pan. Not a single square of rhubarb stuck to the pan.  After the cake was out, I took a spoon and carefully scraped out all the rhubarb flavored buttery brown sugar. And ate it over the sink.

The cake was delicious. I’m sorry there aren’t any pictures of a slice of the cake, but it disappeared pretty fast. It’s a moist cake, made with buttermilk (always a promising sign!), flavored with a teaspoon of anise seeds, pounded in a mortar and pestle.

I’ll make it again soon. Since rhubarb is just about finished, I think I’ll use up some of the frozen plums I squirreled away last summer. To make space for the bushels of blackberries I‘m planning on picking this summer.


Charles Shere said...

Hmmm, there's gotta be an anise-rhubarb cocktail. I envision some kind of rickey with gin rabarbaro and pernod. Am I nuts?

lshere said...

What a beautiful cake! How did you get such even-sized pieces?

Giovanna said...

I think you probably have some gin, rabarbaro, and pernod lying around...I'll look forward to hearing what you come up with (and tasting it when you're here!).

As for the even-sized pieces, well, they're not really all that even. I picked similar width pieces and did my best!

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