The apéritif hour is one of the best, the transition from whatever the day has entailed to whatever the evening will bring. Glasses are raised, snacks are nibbled, cares are washed away, and a fine meal begins.
This wasn’t always the case. Apéritif, which comes from the Latin “aperitivus,” to open, referred to opening something other than an evening with friends and family. It was, rather, a reference to healing, a drink made from herbs and plants which helped “open up” the system.
Beginning with Drink
Throughout history, however, meals have begun with drink. The Egyptians opened theirs with warm beer and dates, the Greeks with wine made from grapes, the Romans with wine made from honey.
In the Middle Ages, a tradition arose in France at the beginning of a meal. Called “trinquer,” it was the precursor to clinking glasses together before taking a sip. Then, tankards were clinked together and while today we say “à votre santé,” to your health, or “tchin tchin,” no one said a thing. They just looked deep into each other’s eyes. Why? Because poisoning was common at the time, and a good tankard clink caused droplets of liquid to jump from one glass to another. Common wisdom had it that a poisoner would look away in shame if their dastardly potion went into another’s cup.
I’ve been told there is a different reason for staring deep into another’s eyes when clinking glasses, but if legend has it that poison is the reason, I will go with that!
In France it wasn’t until the end of the 18th century, under Napoleon I, that snacks were served with drinks before a meal, thus dawning the era of the apéritif as we know it today. It became commonplace, growing from that to drinks at the café and the bar. Then suddenly, post-World War I and its huge penury, the French looked askance at drinking for enjoyment, and the apéritif hour fell into decline. It wasn’t revived until the 1960’s and has since flourished.
Apéritif – Join In!
All this history makes the apéritif tradition even more rich and substantial than it already is. So, join in; do as the French do. Make the apéritif hour an extra special moment to welcome guests, enjoy a moment with people you care about around a drink you all love, and some delicious things to eat. You’ll see. It opens an evening, and maybe even more that.