Green fairy most bitter

Wrdnrd/ January 3, 2022/ Garden notes, Kitchen notes

There’s bitter — and then there’s the expression on my poor spouse’s face when he tasted the candy i handed to him. I had been aiming to make some “old man candies” for him using herbs from the garden, but apparently wormwood is in a class all its own when it comes to bitter flavors.

No, not this wormwood (or this one).

Not this one, either….

In a panel from classic comic "Calvin and Hobbes," Calvin's teacher, Miss Wormwood, grimaces and slaps her forehead while holding a paper and standing over Calvin at his desk. Calvin is a white boy in a red and black striped shirt and with blonde spiky hair. Miss Wormwood is an older white woman with white hair, square glasses, and a green dress with green polka dots.

When we got interested in homemade bitters a few years ago, i started adding some common ingredients to my gardening. One of them is Artemisia absinthium, the wormwood used to make absinthe as well.

Skimming through DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor (by Guido Masé and Jovial King), i found a recipe for homemade hard candies using wormwood. Andy tends to enjoy bitter, sour candies (Lemonheads, Mexican watermelon lollipops dipped in chile powder), so this seemed worth trying. Also a fun experiment in achieving the hardball stage in candymaking, something i hadn’t tried since probably middle school.

The hardball stage was a success! The flavor … not so much. Andy did agree that the idea of a wormwood candy is something that, in theory, appeals to him. But it was just entirely too strong and bitter for both of us. I felt like i couldn’t get the flavor out of my mouth for the rest of the evening. It has potential, and i’d like to try again, just with much less wormwood.

kitchen notes

The recipe calls for one cup of dried wormwood, “loosely packed.” When i have more dried wormwood, i’ll try again using much, much less. And i’ll also start weighing the wormwood so i can dial in the amount and flavor — i’m already kicking myself that i didn’t weigh last night’s quantity after measuring it out.

The recipe calls for steeping the wormwood in a pot with 2 cups of water for 5 minutes, then turning on the heat and letting it simmer for another 10 minutes. After that, you strain out the leaves and simmer the resulting liquid down to just one cup. I think this stage will be a good point to stop and test the flavor as i try to find a level of wormwood that’s palatable.

If i’m able to get some good candies eventually, i’ll post my altered version of the recipe.

garden notes

I live in King County in Washington state, where absinthe wormwood is considered a noxious weed. I keep mine in a large pot to prevent it from taking over the yard (and the city). Even still, this past summer the roots eagerly grew right out of the holes in the bottom of the pot, so this year i’ll have to put a drip pan under the pot to protect the yard.

(Photo of my wormwood plant to come once the snow has finished melting.)