After my column "Across the table: In Italy, amaro is the bitter end" ran on Saturday, I got a number of emails in response. One reader, Maria Moffa Levenson, wrote, recalling her first encounter with Fernet Branca:
"The first time we went to Italy, I was 4. I had a stomach ache, maybe even the flu, but instead of soups and broths and tea and crackers, what did my mom and my aunt give me? Fernet Branca! I'll never forget the horrible taste and smell, as if someone had marinated moth balls in Lysol. It was awful. For some reason, they thought they'd make it better by putting it in espresso. Even worse!
Of course, before we came back from our vacation, Mom packed a few bottles in her suitcase, because 50 years ago, it was hard to find in the U.S. All through my childhood, whenever I had a stomach ache, if I knew there was Fernet in the house, I'd hide my ailment as much as I could, as I wasn't going to drink that stuff ever again! Mind you, Pepto-Bismol was not allowed in the house, because it wasn't good for you, but Fernet was. How I yearned for Pepto!"