Friday, 12 February 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Grisettes de Montpellier

Grisettes de Montpellier are tiny honey flavoured sweets with touch of liquorice. They look like small black beads the size of a pea and their origins go back to the Middle Ages. They were used by pilgrims travelling to the sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia as barter with the 12th century shopkeepers of Notre-Dame-des-Tables. Grisettes are still made there to a recipe dating from 1837.

Liquorice was a speciality of 18th century Montpellier and was grown in the garrigues (low, soft-leaved scrub land found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the sea coast). The Liquorice plant is related to beans and peas and is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. Liquorice extract is made by boiling the root of the Liquorice plant and the name Liquorice comes from the Old French word licoresse. Liquorice contains glycyrrhizin, a sweetener more than 50 times as sweet as sucrose.

Oddly enough it was Pontefract in Yorkshire which was the first place where Liquorice mixed with sugar began to be used as a sweet (Pontefract Cakes were originally made there). In Yorkshire and Lancashire Liquorice is colloquially known as Spanish, supposedly because Spanish monks grew liquorice root at Rievaulx Abbey near Thirsk.

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