People love their Pimpinella Anisum. Well, actually they either love it or hate it. They have done one or the other, it is recorded, since at least 1500 BC. Anise assumes many forms today. From the north to the south of Europe, people make anise-based infusions (herbal tea) to alleviate their cold and flu symptoms.
The French feature it in three well-known aperitif drinks: anisette, pastis and absinthe. They also happily consume it in candy form (the whole grain being coated with a sweet, flavored coating), and have been doing so since at least the 1500s (AD), notably in charming ye-olde-style oval tins under the name Anis de Flavigny. There are ten flavors, including violet, orange flower, rose, mint, ginger, mandarine...The Italians like their anice as well. I have fond memories of eating pizzelle, those delicate, usually anise-scented waffle cookies originally from the Abruzzo. And if you go to an Indian restaurant in London (I mention London because boy, can you feast on Indian there), you'll likely enjoy a curry that is dosed with anise. On the way out, you'll grab a small handful of a seed mixture, chiefly composed of anise. Helps with the breath, and digestion.
When my Dutch friends visited this past weekend, they came bearing gifts, which included muisjes, or "little mice"(in Dutch, the 'j' is pronounced like a 'y'). Ah, the memories of my near-decade in Amsterdam...You see, muisjes are Holland's hat in the anise ring. One of them anyway, as there is also anise-infused steamed milk, as well as the ubiquitous little December pepernoten cookies, come to think of it.
Also candy-coated, muisjes are even smaller than the anis de Flavigny, and are eaten sprinkled on buttered rusks (basically thicker, airier melba toast rounds). They come in mixes of white and blue, and white and pink, as they are what proud new Dutch parents unfailingly offer to their visitors. I remember the only variation to the cast-iron tradition, which was when the future Queen of the Netherlands, little Catherina-Amalia, was born in 2003: all the supermarkets then carried orange-colored muisjes (orange being the royal color), so we could all celebrate. In the case of my own children, I became rather addicted and kept eating muisjes for a good year after the celebrations had been concluded. Ahem.Why little mice, you ask? Because anise seed often still has a little stem attached, even after being coated with the candy layer--so they kind of resemble little mice; mice also represent fertility. Go figure.
Why anise, you ask? Aside from there being something inexplicably scrumptious about the combination of some quality butter, the crunch of the bread, the sweet snap and pop of the muisjes themselves and their fragrant anise release...where was I going with this? Ah, yes--why. Because anise is said to help with milk production for a nursing mother. And it chases away evil spirits.
Why an entire entry about anise? Um, I suppose I needed a pretext to photograph and write about muisjes.