These are the words thus pronounced after imbibing one teaspoon, rapidly followed by another. Even though it has taken some forty years to discover this herbal digestive, I feel confident consumed by this unnamed power. After all- I am the master of the hunt.
Jȁgermeister tastes exactly like I hoped it would. I am excited to report; it is the unmistakable eye widening, growl inducing taste of melted down tar and black jellybeans. The secretly guarded recipe of 56 herbs, fruits, woods, barks, and roots has helped this potion, along with eye witness accounts of shocking behavior exhibited by those who partake, and laughable rumors of elk’s blood being part of the enigmatic mix; gain cult status. Truly of the love it or leave it ilk, there are those clamoring voices crying out that it tastes exactly like treacle-y cough syrup which is really no surprise given that this 70 proof brownish red halbbitter was created as an herbal remedy for respiratory and digestive issues . Indignities such as being affectionately called Leberkleister/ liver glue and the ancillary use of being an ad hoc insect trap only serve to endear me more. Fruitless distraction, this is one of those moments when I hold absolutely no impartiality. Nyquil, licorice, Jȁgermeister- I love you all the same.
One hit of the nectarous dark stuff from the eerie green bottle has been my undoing these past few weeks. I cannot focus clearly, my mind returning to an ancient obsession formerly and inadequately subdued. Medicinally revered yellow murky extract from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra shrub is combined with sugar, starch, molasses, salt, and other spices like anise to achieve the complex flavor that pulls the unsuspecting in with a sweet almost fruity hello before tumbling down the taste escalator and finishing with a bittersweet thud. Though I detect a skosh of aspartame and am reminded of the hoppy aftermath to warm ale, I am nonetheless besotted. Dreamily I find myself thinking about spice gumdrops again, the way I’d stealthily ferret out the white and black ones happily munching on the warm musky clove- allspice mixture. I imagine a bank of handsome 24” glass confectioners jars full of ebony sugar encrusted chews lined against the short side of my kitchen. I have even returned to perusing international licorice sites, cruising candies from England, Germany, and Finland. Toothsome Pontefract cakes toiled over by industrious monks, banana flavored confections shaped like a mini ape’s head, stout licorice toffee logs, and strawberry crepuscular bats; dare I go for the formidable face scrunching Dubbel Zout? Inevitably I throw about seven must-try bags into my virtual cart and a half dozen curiosities, spend at least an hour or two twiddling my life away before I realize that I am uncomfortably close to spending too many dollars on candy. The shame of this and killjoy- the hellish thought of licorice plaque forever wedged between my molars, reel me quickly back to safety.
Fortunately being the newly appointed meister, I am not completely deterred as I ruffle through the bag of tricks in my mind. And I peruse to almost 8 years back at preparations for a party which included a licorice ice cream fiasco. Beside this and over to the side, a fussy recipe for candied fennel garnish almost forgotten. Like lightening to a rod, brilliant inspiration. I channel the best European bakers and emboldened by my favorite pear and licorice jelly belly combination- decide that a fruit fennel Jȁgermeister concoction is in order. The thought leaves me gleaming.
Since apple and fennel is a classic duo in savory dishes, it seems only natural that they can lean the other direction which would serve to brighten the complexion of the spicy brew. Whereupon the salt mineral earthiness of licorice brings to mind all those tongue warming spices that perfume gingerbreads and fruitcakes and pfeffernüsse too. Consider the cascading flavors which peer out of the shadows like fig, chocolate, tobacco, kerosene, aluminum, and root beer and suddenly it seems possible to marry the unfathomable flavor with a whole flock of previously ignored suitors. It is at about this point that I have an insight into the trouble with this hodgepodge of hues. Perhaps it is just too broad to wrap our palates around, a frightening mirror into the expanse of possibilities. Then inconsiderately swaddled up in: black cat, black sheep, black plague…black; an insult on top of a misunderstanding. I consider what the California Dried Plum organization has done for the humble prune and I’m heartened. Turning back to the strudel with focused resolve, the work of St. Eustace is far from over.
Apple Fennel Jȁger-strudel serves 6: This pastry was made to convert even the most devout black licorice hater. While a spoonful of the herbal spirits is quite potent, within the compote it's character broadens to something almost more floral. The anise was a quick sub-in because it didn't really have the intensity I desired. I believe Pernod, Ouzo, Sambuca would be fine as well and truthfully I might prefer them.
1 C fennel thinly sliced
1 C water
1/3 C sugar
3 ½ tsp. Jȁgermeister
Pinch of cloves
2 tsp. butter
2 granny smith apples cored and sliced into ¼” slices
¼ tsp. anise extract
Pinch of aniseed (optional)
Coarse raw sugar
10 Fillo sheets thawed
Melted butter/olive oil
Directions: Place the fennel, water, sugar, Jȁgermeister, cloves, and butter into a shallow medium sized pan and bring up the heat to the point that the water gently bubbles. Keep cooking, gently stirring the fennel around from time to time until the vegetable softens and the liquid is almost reduced. Stir in the apples and continue to stir and cook until the apples are about 2/3 of the way cooked. Add the anise and taste the mixture for more liquor/extract if desired. Allow the fruit to cool completely. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a cookie sheet place a layer of Fillo and brush the dough with melted butter. Place another sheet on top and keep repeating with butter and another layer of dough until the sheets are all used up. Spread the cooled mixture in log formation on top center of the dough. Sprinkle with aniseeds and raw sugar and fold the dough long edge over the fruit. Brush a little butter on top of that upward facing edge. Fold the dough on the opposite side over the buttered top. Press lightly down to seal the package a bit. Now fold the short ends up using a little melted butter as glue and press down to seal. Again brush a little butter on top of the streusel and sprinkle a little sugar on top of the entire log. Place in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown. Cool a bit and serve with vanilla bean ice cream or some softly whipped cream scented with anise extract.