lthough I’m not old, I’m not young either, but I’m really happy that way. Being in my thirties I’ve realised that everyone isn’t having more fun than me, that I’m happy and healthy and have more treats than I deserve. Consistent with this, I’ve become more mature and measured in my indulgences, and anise is a good illustration of how my taste has changed, but one of my favourite flavours has remained a favourite, despite getting older.
During my childhood we were allowed pocket-money to the tune of two times our age – thus 10p aged five, 12p aged six and so on – but the most we could spend on sweets each week was 10p, always on a Saturday, always in the village shop. Every week it was my habit to blow the lot on aniseed balls and go round sucking them for hours until I got to the
tiny, underwhelming seed in the middle that was the only thing about them approaching the natural, herbal sweet they must have been once. For the rest of the day my tongue and mouth would be evil, bright red from the colouring.
Growing a bit older and becoming more outgoing in my teens I started going to the pub, where Pernod & lemonade was my drink of first choice. Hoping to appear sophisticated – supping pastis and talking about Camus – it glowed fantastically under the UV strips they used to have in clubs (perhaps they still do). I loved the stickiness and the Frenchness, but most of all I loved the flavour, which would spritz up my nose if the lemonade wasn’t the trad 1990’s two-day-old-flat sort.
Just as then I still adore anise, but now I get my kicks from the fennel bulb – very pure and healthy in comparison to the treats that led me to love its flavour. Knowing how well it gets on with sugar I was surprised to discover how well it works in savoury dishes, but as Niki Segnit
says ‘it’s a very combinable flavour’. Lovely braised, charred, macerated and marinated – in particular with lemon and shellfish – it is also lovely to gnaw on raw whilst ruminating.
Maturity seems to have brought me slightly more adult tastes then, but like everyone I’m struck by a little existential crise once in a while and when that hits I turn to Bassetts
for comfort – with a copy of I Capture the Castle
and a bag of liquorice it’s hard to feel glum.