Since my wife is of proud Spanish Basque heritage I have become enamored with all things Basque, including a pilgrimage we took last year to northern Spain, in search of her family’s roots and the best tapas bars in San Sebastian.
My “studies” have taken me down some interesting paths, especially when it comes to Basque traditions.
Some of these traditions involve naked women and sheep.
As I have previously posted, the latter were herded and the former were sometimes carved into large quaking aspen trees.
(I think I got that in the correct order.)
We lived for over twenty years in northeast California, a bastion of Basque sheepherders, restaurants, yes, quaking aspen trees with “interesting” carvings.
In my worldwide travel quest to sample various ethnic and regional alcoholic beverages—for journalistic purposes, of course—I remember, many years ago, drinking something called a Picon Punch at the St. Francis Hotel bar in Susanville, California.
I really had no idea what went into it, but I remember the taste was quite “unusual,” which is not to say, bad.
Lo and behold, last September, Wayne Curtis, in Atlantic Magazine, did a whole story on this drink.
“The early history of the drink, an assertive, tart, and largely forgotten cocktail, remains murky, but it appears to be a Basque-American concoction, without antecedent in the old country.”
“I believed this was the most delicious drink I’d had in a year.”
I had not been to any place in a long time that served a Picon, as I believe it is sometimes abbreviated, until recently when we went to the 50th Annual San Francisco Basque Picnic, where they served a “Digestif Brandy Picon.”
The Atlantic Magazine article linked to one recipe for Picon Punch, which seems darn close to the concoction that the Basque bartenders were pouring at the San Francisco Basque Picnic. Basque festivals can be found in many areas, especially throughout the western United States. Here is a website that lists some of them.
After reading the Atlantic piece, I did make one discovery right in my own home. The article mentioned,
“The essential ingredient—Amer Picon—is actually no longer available in the U. S. The Picon Punches today [are made] with an American-made substitute, called Torani Amer, which are made by the same company that manufactures flavorings for coffee shops. [Amer Picon is] far more complex and layered, more redolent of caramelized orange, than the Torani.”
Wayne Curtis is now on his own quest.
“I’ve since been keeping an eye out for Amer Picon in liquor stores with dusty shelves, and reading detailed accounts about how to make it.”
The dusty shelves comment got me to thinking, and I ventured down to the dark, cool recesses of our basement, and a wooden crate containing various old bottles of “this and that.”
There I found a very dusty bottle of Amer Picon. The “real” stuff, made in France.
The bottle is only half-full, and funny thing, I don’t remember ever making a Picon Punch at home. But, maybe that is the nature of the drink.
BTW, anybody out there know if an old bottle of this stuff, opened many years ago, ever goes “bad?”
I really would prefer not getting sick on this bitter French aperitif made with herbs and burnt orange peel.
Who do you think I am…Anthony Bourdain?