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Lord Michael Lewis

Absinthe: The Topic

533 posts in this topic

Absolutely! Which is why Ted Breaux's Nouvelle-Orléans is a great choice. But this has a lot more in common with Pernod than it does Herbsaint, IMO.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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As much as some would like you to think that Herbsaint is necessary or "traditional" for a Sazerac, in fact Herbsaint only dates to 1935.  The Sazerac is around a hundred years older.

Not quite right on the date, Legendre Absinthe, the original name for Herbsaint first appeared in December of 1933, the name was changed to Herbsaint, by Marion Legendre on March 1, 1934, after the FACA "asked" Legendre & Co. to remove the word "Absinthe" from the label, following Jung & Wulff's "little dispute" with the FACA over their selling real absinthe following repeal.

Legendre would later band together with Jung & Wulff, and Yochim, to form the short lived New Orleans Absinthe Manufacturers Association, but changing tastes, and the depression, soon ended the association, as well as Jung & Wulff, and Yochim.


At The close of the day, Drink an Herbsaint Frappe...Legendre Herbsaint, Always served when absinthe is called for.

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While it is true that Herbsaint didn't come into existence until after prohibition, I believe at least one of the companies that was eventually rolled into the Sazerac company (L.E. Jung & Wulff) manufactured true Absinthe before prohibition.

So while it is impossible that Herbsaint was used in the original Absinthe containing version of the Sazerac, it is possible that an American Absinthe was used, possibly even manufactured in New Orleans.

Sazerac bought Jung & Wulff's name quite awhile after the demise of Jung & Wulff, it's entirely possible that bars used Jung & Wulff's absinthe before the ban, and shortly after prohibition though it's very hard to say what market share Jung & Wulff's absinthe had back in the day.

Undoubtedly Jung & Wulff's later Milky-Way and it's later Solari's incarnation Green Opal would have been used in the post ban, post prohibition era, along with Legendre Herbsaint.

Btw....a Sazerac made with Vintage Herbsaint is quite nice too.


At The close of the day, Drink an Herbsaint Frappe...Legendre Herbsaint, Always served when absinthe is called for.

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While we're on the topic of Jung & Wulff, click here to see a photo of the bottle.

Lovely. :biggrin:

(Michael Terranova's photo courtesy of Mixing New Orleans - Cocktails and Legends, by Phillip Collier)

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Just did a tasting this morning(gotta love absinthe first thing in the morning) of Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte. I also tasted some of their liqueurs, a vodka and a gin and it all seems to be high quality stuff. The Absinthe is 65% ABV, bright green in color and has some great floral notes to it and went down really smooth. Added water and it louched really well. The distillers notes say that it is aged in used wine barrels, that they use green anise, which they claim is superior, as opposed to star anise, all natural coloring and grande wormwood. I was really impressed and ordered a bottle for the bar. Overall the company seems to put out quality product. Their Peach Liqueur tasted like real fresh peaches and the Blackberry Liqueur tasted like real blackberries but was a little too sweet for my taste. Anyway, its good to see another unique absinthe out in the market. Hopefully we'll keep seeing more quality stuff out there.

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Leopold is doing it right.

The "green anise" (aniseed) vs. "badiane" (star anise) dichotomy comes from the fact that star anise is the super-rich source of anethole, the anise flavoring used in confectionery, i.e. the "black licorice" flavor. Prior to star anise, sweet fennel was the industry source of anethole.

The mass-market absinthe brands use this oil to provide the anise component of the flavor, hence people noting how much absinthe tastes like licorice. Only inferior brands taste like "Good and Plenty" because of this shortcut.

Green anise, what most people refer to as aniseed, has a much smoother, soft, and delicate complexity owing to the fact that it's more than just extracted pure anethole.

While star anise is common to many old absinthe recipes, it was—and is—used judiciously in small amounts to augment the green anise. Out of dozens, I've never seen a pre-ban recipe that didn't call for aniseed as the major botanical.

Speaking of "green anise" and "badiane." While these terms are not in common use generally, most absinthe makers have adopted these usages because they are common language in the old treatises.

To address a point made earlier, this is also part of why we specify Grand Wormwood instead of just plain wormwood.

The other reasons are that,

1) there are two wormwoods most common to absinthe, and the common names for them in French are Grande Absinthe and Petite Absinthe, i.e. greater and lesser wormwood. Only the greater wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, is the definitive ingredient in absinthe, so it's helpful to specify that one is using Grand Wormwood in one's absinthe to assure that the consumer is getting the real deal.

2) There are many, many Artemisia species and over fifty of these share the common name of "wormwood." Less than scrupulous producers have taken advantage of this confusion by simply saying they they use "wormwood" or "genuine Artemisia" when in fact they are using something unrelated to absinthe.

In one example which has caused no small amount of confusion, the original Absente™ absinthe substitute product was said to contain "Southern Wormwood" (aka Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum) and actually misidentified it as "petite wormwood" (Artemisia pontica), which is the wormwood responsible for the green color of absinthe.

Wormwood is merely a common name, like "grass". How many grasses are there?

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... we specify Grand Wormwood instead of just plain wormwood ... 1) there are two wormwoods most common to absinthe, and the common names for them in French are Grande Absinthe and Petite Absinthe, i.e. greater and lesser wormwood.  ...  2) There are many, many Artemisia species and over fifty of these share the common name of "wormwood."  Less than scrupulous producers have taken advantage of this ...

Last point is good, and well taken. (Also, thanks for the details on anise.) And as mentioned earlier, I know no problem with anyone choosing "Grand" language for private or editorial writing. The only reason for raising the issue was, and is, compelling to many people, and it's distinct from points in quotation above:

The existing convention in standard modern Anglophone reference books, the kind readers will find in the library, is to call Artemisia absinthium (specifically) "wormwood." For instance the CRC medicinal-herbs handbook (written by USDA's chief on the subject), all editions I have of the standard international biochemical handbook, two authoritative pharmacology texts, three classic drinks reference books, Harold McGee's food-drink reference book, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Conrad's classic 1988 US absinthe book. Most of these, and many other examples, refer to absinthe liquors. (Occasional secondary names appear for the herb: "ajenjo," "absinthium.") "Grand[e]" wormwood surfaces, of course, in French and archaic writing, it's well to point that out. But in an absinthe tutorial, the general public might be better served by the language standard in other English-language literature that they'll see if they read in further depth. (Absinthe as a subject is confusing enough, without this added language filigree.)

Years ago I read amazing chemical-formula books from around 1900 and earlier, using beautiful archaic chemical names: Orpiment, Realgar, aqua regia, corrosive sublimate -- even protoxide of hydrogen.* Very cool language, enjoyable in its own right. But much less useful to the modern reader, who will find few of these materials called by those names in modern writing.

* I think one chemist I know was able to name all of these in modern terms -- without looking them up. And he has a strong interest in history.

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I understand your point, and I wish it were that simple. A decade ago whenever someone said "wormwood" it was clear that one was referring to absinthium.

However the details of absinthe introduce a second, more obscure wormwood: pontica. Also, as mentioned above, those with a vested interest in redefining "absinthe" have muddied the waters on the topic by introducing still other "wormwoods."

Being a producer now, I'm more hesitant to cite brand examples than I might have been a year or more ago, but there are some particularly egregious examples of willful deception in this segment. There are also completely unintentional errors resulting from insufficient research.

The only reason for raising the issue was, and is, compelling to many people... Absinthe as a subject is confusing enough, without this added language filigree.

Max, you are literally the only person I've ever seen address this issue or to think that being specific is somehow "grand" language.

I believe you may be reading an intent into the use of this language that isn't there, speaking for myself at any rate. It's not about using fifty-cent words, it's about accurate and relevant information. Had not the subject been confused by unethical and uninformed marketing, I'm sure it would be practically unnecessary. The simple fact is that if I want to communicate the truth I have often have to be specific, in the casual as well as biological sense of that word.

The adoption of this language isn't arbitrary grandiosity. For me it comes from literally hundreds of conversations on the topic, online and off, and I have personal experience of people's confusion; the constant need for clarification on the topic of Artemisias has pretty well cemented specificity into my vocabulary.

Traditional absinthe always used two different wormwoods. It's not puffery to specify which ones.


Edited by Hiram (log)

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A decade ago whenever someone said "wormwood" it was clear that one was referring to absinthium.  /  However the details of absinthe introduce a second, more obscure wormwood: pontica.
A. pontica (a.k.a. petite, or Roman, wormwood, petite absinthe, "green ginger") appears in most established accounts of absinthe production, including Conrad's book, 20 years old; online absinthe tutorials 15 years old; Conrad cites its use in "most of the legitimate absinthes" (pre-ban). It's nothing new in the literatures related to absinthe, which I mentioned.
those with a vested interest in redefining "absinthe" have muddied the waters on the topic by introducing still other "wormwoods."
Again I feel that's a good point,* though an occasional one.
Max, you are literally the only person I've ever seen address this issue --
Except for the USDA, Harold McGee, Barnaby Conrad, medical, chemical, and pharmacy references, drinks manuals, etc. etc. etc. -- all of which I got it from. (If you really have seen no such sources, I humbly suggest more research.)
-- or to think that being specific is somehow "grand" language.  I believe you may be reading an intent ... that isn't there ... It's not about using fifty-cent words
Some claim that absinthe induces unusual states, but mind reading? I have to reveal that it didn't work here. (I cited "Grand[e]" because it's the literal word at issue). He who would not have people read things into his words might first take his own advice!

*In another forum I mentioned "petit wormwood" used in one firm's documentation where A. absinthium would be usual instead; opportunities for cloudiness and confusion (origin of word "Pastis") exist even outside the glass.

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With apology to any people who may look to this eG forum solely for liquid nourishment, I'll mention also the famous cooking recipes that used absinthe -- for shellfish especially.  Mussels and prawns are still cooked with Pernod (and citrus zest etc.) in restaurants -- the flavor harmony can be exquisite.  US cookbooks of mid-century or earlier allude to traditions of cooking crawfish etc. in absinthe.  I expect a renaissance of these dishes -- if it hasn't begun already -- with attendant spreads in the Wednesday newspaper food sections (and the usual mentions of absinthe's lurid mystique, so obsolete, yet so indispensable as a marketing aid).

I recently reread Taras Grescoe's The Devil's Picnic, a book about the author's travels around the world in search of illicit consumables. He has a chapter on Swiss absinthe (before the ban was lifted), and while in the Val-de-Travers he ran into many people who said they used absinthe to glaze souffles. He didn't mention if they were sweet or savory; either one sounds intriguing, though. MaxH, have you come across any recipes for this use?

Good book, btw. I almost named my company after an absinthe-maker Grescoe discusses.


Small Hand Foods

classic ingredients for pre-prohibition era cocktails

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I recently reread Taras Grescoe's The Devil's Picnic, a book about the author's travels around the world in search of illicit consumables.  He has a chapter on Swiss absinthe (before the ban was lifted), and while in the Val-de-Travers he ran into many people who said they used absinthe to glaze souffles.  He didn't mention if they were sweet or savory ... MaxH, have you come across any recipes for this use?

Wasn't that the absinthe-flavored dish in the news a few years ago, during a high-profile gathering in Switzerland, ban still in effect, questions raised about propriety? By many accounts, clandestine local absinthes were a tradition in parts of Switz., and being underground was part of the fun. (As with Prohibition in the US, which raised both liquor consumption and number of bars.) Around 2000 in the Bay Area, a Swiss journalist of mature years told me a personal experience of this, repeated in the first pph of my "Customer Review" of Conrad's Martini book at amazon.com Here.

Several central-European food books yielded no such specialty soufflé, but Google produced hits including a recipe for Soufflé glacé à l'absinthe. In the three main English-language editions of the Larousse Gastronomique* there's also mention that the wider Artemisia genus is especially popular in Central Europe for food and drink flavorings, the herb génépi for herb teas and "a number of plant liqueurs" including the Swiss Génépi des Alpes. (LG, 2001 ed.)

* Three more first-recourse references following the convention of "Wormwood" for A. absinthium.

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Sorry to resurrect an oldish topic, but i am interested in buying an Absinthe, I have read thru the "newer" end of this thread, but wondered if there were any other newly available Absinthes worth trying..I have limited supply to choose from at my local shops..(lucid, st george, and all the substitutes)

I can also purchase from drinkupny.com as connecticut allows home liquor delivery...so Kubler53 becomes available as well...

I plan to try it in the traditional fashion, and in a Sazerac, DITA, and a few others...

I checked some reviews over at wormwoodsociety.org, but wondered what you've tried over the past year...

thanks

sb


Edited by shantytownbrown (log)

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... wondered what you've tried over the past year...

Tasting note upthread from earlier in year, after the respected artisanal distiller St. George Spirits, located in my region, released its "first US-made legal absinthe" sold under that name since the ban. (Trivia note: 1500-bottle first batch precipitated a run on the stuff, with throngs waiting around the block -- that particular link in the earlier note seems unavailable now, by the way -- and people phoning area retailers from across the country. I got some bottles just by promptly calling a couple quality spirits vendors with whom I have a steady customer relationship; as expected, they'd gotten allocations and were doling them out first-come, first-served. The firm has certainly made more batches since, and the product should be much more available.) The St. George was a subtle, herbal liquor made with obvious focus on flavor and notably, based on brandy like the original absinthes, rather than the clear neutral spirits claimed by the Kübler and Lucid products sold in retailers at the same time.

No harm in resurrecting the topic, also: It's a chronic US interest ever since the 1912 ban, and publicly on the Internet too since the 1980s, even though it moved into the mainstream media just a few years ago.

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saw this max, and based on your review thats where i was going to go with my first Absinthe purchase...i think it was the brandy base and complex and "different" herb profile that i have read about elswhere that intrigued me...its quite a pricey bottle tho...i will save my pennies and ake my way to the shop soon...

thanks again..

looking forward to a tasting...

... wondered what you've tried over the past year...

Tasting note upthread from earlier in year, after the respected artisanal distiller St. George Spirits, located in my region, released its "first US-made legal absinthe" sold under that name since the ban.

No harm in resurrecting the topic, also: It's a chronic US interest ever since the 1912 ban, and publicly on the Internet too since the 1980s, even though it moved into the mainstream media just a few years ago.

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Sorry to resurrect an oldish topic, but i am interested in buying an Absinthe, I have read thru the "newer" end of this thread, but wondered if there were any other newly available Absinthes worth trying..I have limited supply to choose from at my local shops..(lucid, st george, and all the substitutes)

I can also purchase from drinkupny.com as connecticut allows home liquor delivery...so Kubler53 becomes available as well...

I plan to try it in the traditional fashion, and in a Sazerac, DITA, and a few others...

I checked some reviews over at wormwoodsociety.org, but wondered what you've tried over the past year...

thanks

sb

I bought my bottle of St. George when the only domestically available absinthes (at least that I was aware of) were St. George, Lucid, and Kubler, all of which you mention. Given those three, the St. George is absolutely what you want. It's complex and delicious where the Lucid and Kubler are simpler and more anise-heavy.

However, since then a number of other options have become more widely available, and I can't testify as to the quality of many of those.

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I've posted in more detail on the topic for the restaurant L'Absinthe in New York City, however I wanted to summarize here some notes I made on a tasting of four absinthes served fountain-style at the restaurant (which has the most comprehensive absinthe selection in New York City) the other day.

Here's the absinthe fountain they use at L'Absinthe:

gallery_1_295_20704.jpg

The four absinthes we tasted were:

La Fee Absinthe Parisienne. This was by far my least favorite, with a one-dimensional, mass-produced flavor. It was absinthe, no doubt, but it was not a terribly interesting beverage.

Lucid Absinthe Superieure. A big step up, with a robust anise and wormwood flavor, though still rather one-note.

La Clandestine. This I thought was excellent. It was the first absinthe I've tasted where I've said, "Now I get why people are into absinthe." In addition to the anise and wormwood flavors, there were many interesting botanical overtones -- as in a good gin. A complex absinthe with a lot of structure.

St. George Absinthe Verte. This was probably my favorite of the evening, though not so much as an absinthe but in a more abstract sense. It had a ton of unusual flavors and a long, long finish. I'm not even sure I'd call it absinthe if someone just gave me a glass of it. It's more of an absinthe-like beverage made from brandy, star anise, wormwood, mint, lemon balm, tarragon and a bunch of other stuff.

Most of all, drinking absinthe at L'Absinthe just feels right. The restaurant is feels like a slice of Paris from an earlier era. It was a great night.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've posted in more detail on the topic for the restaurant L'Absinthe in New York City, however I wanted to summarize here some notes I made on a tasting of four absinthes served fountain-style at the restaurant (which has the most comprehensive absinthe selection in New York City) the other day.

Here's the absinthe fountain they use at L'Absinthe:

gallery_1_295_20704.jpg

The four absinthes we tasted were:

La Fee Absinthe Parisienne. This was by far my least favorite, with a one-dimensional, mass-produced flavor. It was absinthe, no doubt, but it was not a terribly interesting beverage.

Lucid Absinthe Superieure. A big step up, with a robust anise and wormwood flavor, though still rather one-note.

La Clandestine. This I thought was excellent. It was the first absinthe I've tasted where I've said, "Now I get why people are into absinthe." In addition to the anise and wormwood flavors, there were many interesting botanical overtones -- as in a good gin. A complex absinthe with a lot of structure.

St. George Absinthe Verte. This was probably my favorite of the evening, though not so much as an absinthe but in a more abstract sense. It had a ton of unusual flavors and a long, long finish. I'm not even sure I'd call it absinthe if someone just gave me a glass of it. It's more of an absinthe-like beverage made from brandy, star anise, wormwood, mint, lemon balm, tarragon and a bunch of other stuff.

Most of all, drinking absinthe at L'Absinthe just feels right. The restaurant is feels like a slice of Paris from an earlier era. It was a great night.

excellent review FG...thanks..looks like St G. is still the one for me to try....thanks all...

sb

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FG, thanks for the tasting notes and excellent picture.

I'm not even sure I'd call it absinthe if someone just gave me a glass of it. It's more of an absinthe-like beverage made from brandy, star anise, wormwood, mint, lemon balm, tarragon and a bunch of other stuff.

For comparison, I'll reiterate that the most traditional original absinthes used, besides wormwood, a mix of flavoring herbs to the maker's taste, including lemon balm, star anise, mint; sometimes oregano and others; and started with brandy or wine-grape eau-de-vie as a base. When absinthe caught on in France mid-1800s, and new brands rushed to the market, a criticism (and occasional safety problem) was their reliance on cheap "alcool d'industrie" as the starting liquor. (More in the standard US absinthe book by Barnaby Conrad, 1988). Thus St.-George's ingredients are nearer the originals like Pernod Fils than with other modern absinthes I've seen (the Kübler and Lucid I've tried listed a plain alcohol base, as mentioned earlier).

(Note that in France, when mass-produced food products begin to elbow out the artisanal ones that created the interest, they routinely are criticized as "industrial." That's happened recently and prominently with cheeses, among other things.)

Brooks's posting arrived while I was writing this. Note the meta-news from brand names that the products listed use: The forbidden, or dangerous, aura clearly carries perceived marketing value.


Edited by MaxH (log)

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The forbidden, or dangerous, aura clearly carries perceived marketing value.

Marteau?

Obsello?

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The forbidden, or dangerous, aura clearly carries perceived marketing value.
Marteau? Obsello?

Good one! :biggrin:

I assume Brooks was making fun (not online-arguing in the style of no there aren't any Chinese restaurants there, because there are Indian ones too). But in case the link goes down later, three of eight offerings are called Sirène Verte, Clandestine, and Taboo, with artwork to match. Of course this may be pure coincidence, not mystique marketing. There may be no such trend in absinthe and absinthe-like products this decade, pervading them like a miasma. Literally, for the paper overwrap label on a bottle (ca. 2001) of Muse Verte ("Le Pastis d'Autrefois" in case the point was not already hammered home) showing strange mists and vapors around an absinthe glass with slotted spoon and flat sugar cube; this may be artistic license only. The paper circular attached to the Dr. Roux Elixir bottle stressing so clearly that the herbal liquor is not an aphrodesiac though several components have the reputation; not psychoactive despite reports about some of its herbs, etc., may be purely to dispel misconceptions. As with the recent absinthe tutorials and popular articles I've read that play up assumptions from long-obsolete mystique, even while they purport to be enlightening the public beyond such things. Probably just pure chance!

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I just got a (real, not reprint) copy of the 1865 edition of "Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts" (originally published in 1845) has an interesting recipe for Absinthe that is different from what I have read online and which uses an infusion of 'acetate of lead' in the process. There is quite a bit of precipitation and filtering after its use, but, I wonder how much lead remained in the final product, and if that might have been responsible for some reports of insanity amongst heavy users.

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I just  got a (real, not reprint) copy of the 1865 edition of "Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts" (originally published in 1845) has an interesting recipe for Absinthe that is different from what I have read online and which uses an infusion of 'acetate of lead' in the process. There is quite a bit of precipitation and filtering after its use, but, I wonder how much lead remained in the final product, and if that might have been responsible for some reports of insanity amongst heavy users.

As far as I can tell in the 19th Century, there were about a million recipe books which nearly all contained questionable approximations of just about any liqueur, bitter, spirit, or syrup you could possibly need to get a buzz.

Think of it like those books that purport to re-create the recipes of McDonalds or TGIF. Or even better, think of it like the Melamine in Chinese Milk products.

While it is possible some people may have been gullible enough to make these recipes, what you would get if you would buy a bottle was likely not going to contain acetate of lead.

Though, it is possible, I suppose, as this was pre- pure food and drug act and most of the regulation in America and Europe which prevents this sort of experimentation with a disregard for the use of seriously poisonous products in food stuffs and liquids.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I just  got a (real, not reprint) copy of the 1865 edition of "Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts" (originally published in 1845) has an interesting recipe for Absinthe ... uses an infusion of 'acetate of lead' in the process. There is quite a bit of precipitation and filtering after its use, but, I wonder how much lead remained in the final product, and if that might have been responsible for some reports of insanity amongst heavy users.

Congrats by the way, Lisa, for scoring what sounds like an original "formula book," a genre popular in 19th and early 20th centuries. Though not always practical, their recipes can be interesting reading. (Here also you see the old spelling split, "receipt" vs "recipe" -- one word originally, in English -- "receipt" still common through early 20th c.)

Lead Acetate, "sugar of lead" as it often was called then, surfaced in many 19th-c. recipes I've seen, from pigments to fireworks. This chemical, still common in laboratories, has colorful historical associations because it forms when pewter cups carry wine, allegedly imparting a slightly sweet flavor (I haven't tasted it myself, no thanks); party-going Romans were said to enjoy this effect, linking the acetate to (1) Roman orgies and (2) epidemic lead toxicity-- good history or bad, it reads well.

But it's not hard to remove lead or other heavy metals from solution (tea, in a pinch, does a good job, binding up heavy metals to insoluble tannates) so, not having seen this recipe, it may or may not leave residual lead. But many toxic absinthe adulterants appeared in those days, there's no shortage of sources for ill effects. Brief excerpt from Baggott's 1997 absinthe technical tutorial, online a dozen years now:

... manufacturers sometimes added other ingredients to produce the drink's emerald green color [otherwise due naturally to] chlorophyll from the plants. [For stronger color,] absinthe makers were known to add things like copper sulfate, cupric acetate indigo, turmeric, and aniline green. Antimony trichloride was also used to help the drink become cloudy when added to water (Arnold 1989, 1988). Undoubtedly, some of the toxic effects attributed to absinthe were due to these adulterants.

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My book is by Arnold James Cooley, Chemist, and interestingly enough has a handwritten inscription from 1865 identifying it as the property of a pharmacy. It's also, luckily, printed on acid-free cloth paper which is still bright white and in excellent condition. When it first arrived, I had to double-check that it wasn't a reprint, it looked so good!

I own a few other similar books, but none is as old. This one also appears to have a real slant towards chemistry and the manufacture of real pharmaceuticals, in addition to the usual recipes for biscuits and gilding compounds. Latin names are given for most ingredients, in addition to common English terms.

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