I tend to think of Crème de Menthe as a retro drink but I find myself wondering if it is starting to make a comeback. It certainly makes a refreshing aperitif in the hot summer and its deep green colour is so alluring! Originally Crème de Menthe was made with peppermint and it seems that Emile Giffard was responsible for creating the liqueur in the heat wave of 1885. Giffard was a dispensing pharmacist in Angers (in the Loire Valley) and undertook research on the digestive and refreshing properties of mint. He invented a pure, clear and refined white mint liqueur which he tested with the neighbouring 'Grand Hotel''s customers, in the Ralliement's place. It was a resounding success and changed his pharmacy into a distillery. He named his new liqueur Menthe Pastille and it became a fashionable Victorian after dinner drink. A green coloured version seems to have originated shortly after. Generations later Giffard's is still a family business with a wide range of classic liqueurs, sirops and eau de vie.
Although originating in France, Giffard's Crème de Menthe was made with peppermint leaves imported from Mitcham in Surrey in the late 1800s. Peppermint was not discovered in Britain until 1696, in Hertfordshire. Peppermint was cultivated, particularly at Mitcham in Surrey, from the 1750s onwards and the mint was renowned for its flavour. This resulted in a particular variety called Mitcham Black. To this day, in fact, the French call peppermint Menthe Anglaise.
During the Second World War only 'essential' crops were permissible and mint fields became a thing of the past and Surrey's mint growing dwindled to the point where the Mitcham Black had not been grown in Britain for over 50 years . . . until recently. Sir Michael Colman (of mustard family fame) founded Summerdown Pure Mint a few years ago. During the last decade, Colman and his team have re-learned lost mint-farming skills and combined them with the latest production technology. Summerdown Mint now has over 80 acres of Black Mitcham mint.
Peppermint is sometimes regarded as 'the world's oldest medicine', with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago. Its the oldest and most popular flavour of mint-flavoured confectionery and the English were the first country to manufacture peppermint creams as a product.
Peppermint is actually a cross between the Watermint and Spearmint and grows throughout Europe. The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend - "Minthe" was originally a nymph, and beloved by Pluto. Persephone, Pluto's wife, in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Minthe a sweet scent which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on - the aromatic herb Mint.
Get 27 is a French crème de Menthe made with Spearmint (despite erroneously being named Pippermint Get a century ago). This mint liquor was invented in 1796 by distiller Francois Pons in the town of Revel in the Haute Garonne. The first employees in the company, Jean Get (who married the manager’s daughter) and his brother Pierre took over in 1853. It took name Get 27 after the figure of its alcohol level, which went down with time and is now only 21 degrees. The drink is known worldwide for its taste but also for the peculiar shape of its bottle, inspired by a petrol lamp and created in 1860. The old Get factory in Revel has now been turned into a cultural centre with a library, a dance school and a cinema called Cine-Get. The famous bottle hangs over the front door of the building, which in the past gave Revel its special mint smell. Get 27 is now owned by the Bacardi Group.
There are several cocktails you can make with crème de Menthe but I prefer mine fairly plain – Giffard have some great suggestions on their website and I liked this idea for the summer:
20 cl Crème de Menthe (clear or green)
sprig of fresh mint leaves
40 cl Still water
some Chives, chopped
Mix the crème de Menthe with the still water in a large bowl and keep for 3 hours in a freezer. Each hour crush the mixture with a fork in order to make a Granita. Once the Granita is ready add the cucumber cubes, the juice of half a lemon, fresh mint leaves, some chopped chives, salt and pepper.