Halloween happens to be among my favorite holidays, that is, if you can call it “holy” at all. An ancient, traditional European festive celebration of all things ghoulish and magical, it is the gateway day to the pious and somber Christian All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day that quickly follow. All three days are each, in their own way, commemorations for the departed and where, in certain climes, a heralding of the cooler seasons, when trees drop their leaves and harvests are fewer and far between.
Everyone has their personal favorite decorations and customs to welcome the day, from ghosts, skeletons and scarecrows hanging in windows and on trees, to the ritual of going door-to-door costumed in everything from ballerina tutus to Freddy Kruger masks for the express delight of begging buckets of candy from strangers. Their beleaguered parents can enjoy their own ritual of weeding out the candy for dining suitability and dental health. Now that I am an adult, the candy has certainly lost its charm in favor of hot apple pie; a dark, sticky loaf of gingerbread; or a Devil’s Food cake. These, however, are the seasonal and charming culinary treats that set the table, but say nothing of what, for me, are the three essential ingredients for Halloween: pumpkins, black cats and witches.
Well, I have the pumpkins (and am debating whether I should go easy on myself and paint faces on their coarse and corrugated skins or if I’ll take a knife to them and cut their savage features into place). I have the black cat (Willem, a year old now, will fully appreciate what all the fuss is about). But what I don’t have is a witch, and from what I understand, witches are in rather short supply these days. I’ll just have to go out and buy one in a bottle.
Yes, I’ll just go out and buy myself a bottle of Strega, a potent and mysterious Italian liqueur/aperitif, the formula, a closely guarded secret of reportedly seventy different herbs, despite the public knowledge that it is glowing with saffron, and strongly tinctured with fennel and mint. Oddly enough, Strega is one of the few alcoholic beverages that I can drink straight or over ice or with just plain club soda. In fact, there are so few cocktail concoctions featuring Strega that I am convinced it is meant to be sipped and savored in simplicity, the better to discover the complicated and nuanced layers of its flavors and allure.
So now I have my pumpkins, my black cat, and my witch. Oh, and I have my books, too. No, not the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with its Headless Horseman by Washington Irving, or The Raven by Elgar Allen Poe, but any of a host of esteemed novels by Alberto Moravia, Primo Levi, and Cesare Pevese, all winners of Il Premio Strega, the most prestigious award for Italian literature since 1947, when the prize was created and funded by Guido Alberti, the distiller of Strega. I’ll drink to that.
Strega - Three Simple Salutes
1 shot Strega served in a liqueur glass with or without a little water or soda, as an aperitif or postprandial digestive.
2 shots Strega over ice in a short Manhattan glass. I prefer crushed ice.
1-2 shots Strega in a tall narrow glass topped with club soda or, if you prefer, champagne. A lime twist is optional.
This post is being sent to Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #107. Kalyn is the creator of this wildly popular food blogging event.