Licorice, the Real Stuff

I grew up on black licorice – corrugated nibs (why do I think I remember a camel or something Saharan on the box; yes, a box – in the way-back most candy came in boxes), long supple laces that you could twirl or tie in knots, twisted sticks, pinwheels with floridly colored sugar dots in their centers, minuscule lozenges that were bought in little paper packets and Good & Plenty, pink and white candy-coated pieces of licorice that made a ton of noise when you shook them out of the box (I’m surprised they sold them in movie theaters, but they did). 

I’m sure I liked licorice because my mom did, but now, when I think of the candy, it doesn’t seem a kid’s sweet at all.  Although I do see kids buying licorice as after-school treats in Paris. And they must buy it in all the other licorice-friendly countries, like Holland, where it’s not at all uncommon to find salted and even double-salted licorice candies; Germany; Finland (the Panda brand’s made licorice almost cuddly); Italy, where so much of it is pure and unsweetened; and all over France, where it’s as easy to buy a stick of licorice root as it is a croissant.  In fact, one of the most interesting dishes I’ve ever had used a licorice stick as a skewer for sweetbreads.  It was a Jean-Georges Vongerichten creation and I had it with my husband, Michael, who doesn’t like licorice or sweetbreads, but thought the combination was great.

In fact, it’s interesting that so many licoricephobes seem just fine with licorice taste-alikes like fennel, star anise, anisette and that great Provencal thirst-quencher Pastis.  Not that any of these is so all-American. 

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe it’s that licorice is just not an American flavor.  My two friends who did everything but say “yuck” when the dread l-word escaped my lips, conceded that I might be on to something, except, according to them, one of whom came from Oklahoma and the other from L.A., New York City’s the rule-breaker, a licorice-loving town in a country of licorice loathers.  It’s just another thing that separates the natives from the transplants and it’s not anything that my friends think is going to change – neither can imagine ever being New York enough to like the stuff.  Oh well … more for us real Gothamites.

Dorie Greenspan

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