Friday, September 4, 2009

Red Licorice

Animal crackers, now red licorice. Not sure why the return to sweet treats from childhood—must be some escapist compulsions (which I tend to get whenever I have to pay bills)—but sometimes it's better to not ask why and to just enjoy, even if only in a bout of nostalgia. In a prior post, I wrote about black licorice and its unlikely pairing with wasabi. Today, I remember a love of red licorice. It's nothing I'd eat now, because it generally tastes much more artificial to me, or else (depending on the brand) just sweeter—none of the spice I crave in my sweets today. But I used to eat it often. Frequently in the form of Twizzlers candy, and then most often at the movies with my parents. We'd get popcorn, of course, and sometimes Goobers or Raisinettes, but I often loved the licorice twists, the cherry taste of them, the texture of tough and chewy, and the way the outer spiral pattern would form what looked like a star pattern if you looked from the bitten-off end of the licorice stick. And, once bitten, there was that hole in the middle. Why? I have no idea why the hole necessarily resulted or why it might have been a design element . . . if not for the potential of the licorice to be made into a straw. It seemed an obvious thing to do, though I don't know if anyone else did it. Going to the movies was also one of the only times I was allowed to drink soda growing up, and I invariably ordered 7-Up or Sprite—whatever clear soda was on offer. I'd bite off each end of a Twizzler stick, and push it through the hole in the lid of the soda where a straw would go. I'd slurp up soda and bite down on my makeshift straw simultaneously, and I loved the way the gummy, usually warm licorice became tougher and very, very cold. I loved the way when I bit into it, there was more resistance; my teeth had to work harder and then it was I who made the candy soft again in my mouth, soda squirting from the part of the tube I'd bitten off. At some point, I stopped getting the licorice sticks, though. Then, I turned to cherry Nibs. They were slightly less plastic-like, not so glossy, and when you bit into these, they were solid and of a paler hue on the inside. They seemed more substantial somehow (though I'm sure they were really no less artificial), and a more sophisticated version of licorice candy. I had yet to find on the market anything resembling real, all-natural licorice, and sophisticated is indeed a relative term: I was in my early teens by then. My final red-licorice memory, though, is of red licorice laces. Quirky as I was in my later years of high school, I decided that I would use licorice laces to replace the proper shoelaces from a pair of black boots I owned and wore to death. (Even once the soles had fallen off, I just kept wearing them as they were—repairing them was not something I thought to do on my own up in boarding school.) I shouldn't have to tell you that they didn't hold up very well, but surprisingly I did manage to make them work for a while. The real hazard wasn't the wear and tear, of course, but rather the temptation to eat the laces, which I did; which my friends did, too. Now, if I buy licorice, it's black licorice almost exclusively. I will admit that my son is much more sophisticated in some tastes than I was at his age: he will happily swallow down a single stick or half a box of Panda black licorice, or the Kookaburra brand from Australia. Not yet with wasabi, of course—but really, the more I think of it, the less certain I am that I would eat that combination again myself. And the more I think of the flavor, the more I realize how far I've come from childhood: I tend to get my licorice taste in the form of fennel or anise seed (or ouzo!). But still, red or black—or brown, green, or clear—there's something about licorice in any form that's still appealing. Nostalgia aside, I wholly endorse it, with sincere apologies to my dentist.

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