December 10, 2013

Because Snow

I am going to repost something from 2010 today. Because it is the holiday season and I am baking cookies, and it is snowing outside right now.

December 12, 2010
Christmas does not smell like pine needles or balsam fir to me. The season is not evoked by cinnamon or cloves or peppermint. All those are wonderful scents, but the one Christmas aroma that makes me shiver with pleasure is the smell of a Mediterranean evergreen shrub's seeds: Pimpinella anisum.

Anise (not to be confused with star anise, which is Illicium) is a plant that looks to me a little like Queen Anne's Lace.

The seeds are used for herbal remedies and flavoring. And it's that flavoring, the anise extract, that brings Christmas home to me the minute I smell it.
 My mother made anise Christmas cookies every year and I make them now. They were not elaborate pressed cookies or springerles or the Italian anise cookies you can find. They were really just an iced sugar cookie with anise extract added, cut into Christmas shapes. I love them.

 Descriptions of anise flavor always say it tastes like licorice or tarragon, but it really doesn't. It has a whiff of licorice, but it is much, much lighter, almost citrusy or even minty. It is very refreshing.

Still, it's a taste that is not to everyone's liking.
'Purple Haze' agastache

Santa likes these cookies, and I love them so much I like to have a little anise in my garden. But I can't grow Pimpinella in my zone 5 garden.  I do grow Anise Hyssop, or Agastache, which has an anise scent to its foliage when you touch it.

Agastache is a great plant, with tall spikes of blooms all summer long that bees love. Mine is a deep blue called 'Purple Haze' and it anchors the back of my garden with its tall frothy spikes. It's one of those workhorse drought tolerant plants that just goes all summer with no care.

There are other plants with anise scened leaves. The most notable is Illicium floridanum, called star anise or purple anise, which is a beautiful dense evergreen shrub with glossy leathery leaves. The leaves emit a fragrance of anise when crushed.

I'd love to grow it, but there are a couple reasons I won't. It is not hardy here, although I could put it in a container and bring it onto the porch over winter.
Purple Anise, Illicium floridanum
The other reason: it has stinky flowers. The aroma is consistently described as smelling like fish. How can a plant with leaves that carry the essential fragrance of Christmas for me have unpleasant flowers? Who thought up that combination? Eeeeww.
Illicium floridanum bloom 
Salvia guaranitica, Black and Blue Sage, is called Anise Sage. I grow it, and it's a beautiful large sage with vibrant deep blue flowers. But the leaves do not smell like anise. When you crush them you get an interesting sharp scent, but it's not anise.

There is an anise scented goldenrod, Solidago odora, a native plant that is supposed to have leaves that smell like anise when they are crushed. I could try that.

There is also an anise scented basil I could grow in my garden . . . but wait, now we're getting confused. I mean, basil should smell like basil. I like basil and I like anise. I'm not sure what you gain by having one smell like the other.

In fact I'm not sure what I gain by trying to replicate such a specific and evocative memory of a smell in my garden.

While anise does come from the seeds of a plant, it's not the plant that carries the delight. It's the cookies. It's the season, it's childhood, my mother, and Santa. It's snow and it's good stuff baking.

I really don't need to grow anise scented plants in my garden --- I just need to make sure there is anise extract in my pantry. Mmmmm.

26 comments:

  1. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of Anise...but, strangely, I have A LOT of Anise-scented plants in my garden! As you mentioned, quite a few Agastaches have that scent...and, of course, Fennel smells VERY strongly of Anise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scott, I do love the scent of the agastaches, and fennel too, but I have to say the true anise aroma is much lighter and more like citrus. Can't really describe it !

      Delete
  2. You made me hungry. I love the smell of anise. It reminds me of springles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, isn't scent the most evocative of the senses?

      Delete
  3. Neither anise or pine needles evokes Christmas memories here in the tropics. It's more like the smell of mangoes and that scent of rain hitting the scorched earth. They are the smells of summer and of Christmas for us. I think the closest I've come to smelling anise would be the aroma of fennel that's sold in the supermarket, but maybe that's not a close match.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bernie, fennel has a little bit of the smell of anise, but it's not quite the same. I think a Christmas that smells like mangoes and rain would be lovely : )

      Delete
  4. Merry Christmas, Laurrie

    ReplyDelete
  5. Snow and making Christmas cookies sounds like a perfect combination. We're up to our knees in mud here. lol

    I'm not sure I've ever had anise cookies. I do however want to order a 'Purple Haze' Agastache after seeing yours. It's beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweetbay, here's the bad news: I wrote this post in 2010 when the agastache was glorious. It is gone now, It did not come back from winter last year. I think I will try again though, as that spot just wants a big shrubby agastache there.

      Delete
  6. I have a friend who insists Florida anise is the greatest shrub ever. I don't have one…yet. I'm not that familiar with anise the fragrance, but I tried to grow agastache, and I remember how wonderful it smelled. Sadly, it perished in my soil. I may try again in a pot. Yours is terrific!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deb, as I noted to sweetbay above, that nice agastache is gone. It did not make it through last winter, although it had made it through several winters before that. It really was a great plant and I am going to replace it with another agastache.

      Delete
  7. Oh, Laurrie, you have snow in your garden and you are cooking for Christmas, how nice this season is, isn't it? I think your cookies are delicious! I don't grow anise and know it as a medicine in drugstore. Strange though..
    Have a nice week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nadezda, I did not realize that anise is used for medicine -- I only know it as a flavor extract!

      Delete
  8. I haven't tasted them, but I believe you. So like your cookies, your re-post is tasty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee, the challenge now is to keep from eating all of them before I can get them boxed and ready for family. Gotta sample some.

      Delete
  9. I still haven't tried anise cookies, but I love your anise-scented plant choices. Other than the native hyssop, agastache usually doesn't make it through the winter here, nor does 'Black and Blue.' But I enjoy them so much I plant them every year anyway. Got to get busy making cookies, too--though maybe I should finish the tree decorating and the gift shopping first:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rose, I need to replant my agastache next spring. Although it was lovely for several seasons, as you see in the pictures from 2010, it did not survive last year. Like you, I need to just go out and get new every few years I think.

      Delete
  10. I don't think I've never had anise cookies, but now you have me curious! And I laughed at the thought of a fish-smelling bloom! What a shock that would be to the senses! For me, I think cloves are what Christmas smells like to me. I use them in decorations and in cooking. The scent seems to wrap me in warmth like an old familiar friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Holley, it's funny how scents evoke memories. To me cloves smell like the dentist's office. I am old enough to remember when they used clove oil in dentistry!

      Delete
  11. So I think we need the recipe!

    I too (in your same zone) have to plant new agastache every couple of years, but I love them. I also love black and blue -- moreso because the hummers are supposed to love them. My hummingbirds infinitely prefer red to blue and I only saw one come to the b&b once -- I was kind of kneeling on the deck by the pot where they were planted and a hummer came to investigate and we were eye to eye or should I say nose to beak over the plant. I don't know which one of us was more surprised. Happy baking -- my favorite Christmas activity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucia, I didn't realize the agastache would not survive more than a few years here. But I am committed to replanting another. What a wonderful experience you had with your hummer ... isn't it amazing how those little birds communicate!

      Delete
  12. Nice to know that Illicium floridanum flowers smell like fish. That makes me feel better, since I planted one a few years ago, and in short order something ate it to the ground. I adore agastache and love the smell of it on my hands. So I'd probably love your cookies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, that's what I love about aromatic foliage -- I like to get it on my hands, and then carry the scent with me. Agastache is good for that.

      Delete
  13. My sister-in-law's family is Swedish and they make dozens of an anise-flavored cookie called the springerle. You can google for the recipe but they definitely have a rich anise flavor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patrick, those Swedish springerles are the traditional way to bake with anise. Mine are really just sugar cookies with anise extract in them. Either type of cookie is wonderful!

      Delete

Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.