I would put rosewater in toothpaste if I could. So when 4poundsflour posted a video with Nach Waxman (legendary owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters) entreating cooks not to follow recipes doggedly but to follow their own creative instincts instead, I cracked open the Quince Ratafia that had been resting contentedly for a few weeks and added some rosewater. I felt validated and empowered and not so guilty!
You see, full disclosure, I had already changed the recipe. When I started to make it, I had every intention of following the recipe precisely, but with quinces at $3 a pound I really couldn’t see spending 40$ juicing them (they are not juicy at all). Juicing would be swell if I had my own quince orchard, but like many of you out there, I DO NOT! Since they taste lousy uncooked (although they smell like heaven when ripening in a bowl) and turn rosy with pleasure when you cook them, I threw caution to the wind and chopped them, spiced them, cooked them and laid them to rest with a pint. of Vodka. Honestly, it’s a great project for a rainy afternoon. Cooking the quinces takes time, but the rest is simple as could be!
Juan Sánchez Cotán, Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, 1600
My Ratafia still needs some time to come to it’s full measure but now it’s on its way! The addition of the rosewater gave it that je ne sais quoi that it was missing. This stuff is potent, and smells like heaven… I am already envisioning a punch or a cocktail. It may not be exactly what Miss Bennett knocked back at Pemberely, but honestly, after a few glasses of this, Homer Simpson would look like Mr. Darcy.
Ratafia of Quinces (France 1692, Massialot)
"Take such a quantity of the finest quinces that you can find, crush them, and put the pulp in a strong sieve; press them together to extract the most juice than you can; this juice being well settled, you will add as many pints of eau-de-vie as you have quarts of juice, a handful of sugar to each quart. cinnamon, clove of mace and coriander in proportion to each other. having infused everything for some time, pass it through a straining bag and put it in a bottle."
3 large quinces, peeled, cored and chopped (you can use pears if you can't find Quinces).
1/2 c sugar
1 t each of cinnamon,mace and coriander
1/4 t clove
1 pint vodka
2 t. rosewater(or a few drops of Rose Absolute)
Put the quinces in a sauce pan with the spices and sugar and 1 cup of water. Simmer them slowly till they soften and turn pink...about 1/2 an hour but this varies so check them.
Put the quinces and the accumulated juices in a jar with the vodka and rosewater, making sure the vodka covers the fruit and put the lid on the jar for a month. If you want to hurry it along, puree some of the quince before adding it to the vodka and stir regularly . Open, and strain first through a sieve (pressing gently on the solids) if you have not pureed. If you have, let the puree settle for a few days before decanting and try to leave as much of the solids as you can in the bottom of the jar. Straining will be slow going. Finish using a coffee filter, decant into a bottle and enjoy!
For the record, the name Ratafia is given to many things. It is a liqueur or cordial flavored with peach or cherry kernels, bitter almonds, or other fruits, a flavoring essence resembling bitter almonds, and also to a light biscuit (big in Jane Austen novels). It is also a cordial made from a mix of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape.
FYI: peach and cherry kernels contain high levels of hydrogen cyanide as do bitter almonds. Making this version would give you toxic liqueur so be warned! Unless you are going postal with the "revenge-is-mine" punch bowl... stay away from this version as a party drink!~
For those of you who like pushing the envelope, I include a recipe from the Household Cyclopedia of General Information published in 1881 that would fall under that dangerous heading (but it would be tough to do properly without Ambergris)!
Take of nutmegs, 8 oz., bitter almonds, 10 lbs., Lisbon sugar (muscovado), 8 lbs., ambergris,10 grams. Infuse these ingredients three days in 10 gallons of proof spirit and filter it through a flannel bag for use. The nutmegs and bitter almonds must be bruised and the ambergris rubbed with the Lisbon sugar in a marble mortar, before they are infused in the spirit.
Pete Wells in the NYT says: “A good ratafia exploits the seasons and transcends them. It captures the taste of produce when it’s in high supply so you can still enjoy it when it’s gone.” It seems this is the season for quince ratafia! TheKitchn used a Jane Grigson recipe that called for grating to make a batch and the nice lady at 18thcCuisine has a French version that sounded divine. My inspiration came from the great cookbook, Ivan Day’s Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850 and his extraordinarily erudite website which I mentioned in my Hippocras post
Then there is Catalan ratafia, a green walnut-based version. An article in Metropolitan Barcelona explained: “Traditionally, the herbs are gathered on the eve of the midsummer festival of Saint Joan when they are said to be imbued with magical qualities. Each family has its own recipe—a closely-guarded secret that is passed down through the generations—and their own way of preparing the liqueur. For this reason it is said there are as many different types of ratafia as there are people who make it.
One recipe uses 65 herbs and flowers like the aromatic herbs rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano, as well as flowers with exotic-sounding names such as horse’s tail and lion’s tooth, various types of ferns, stinging nettles and pine cones. Extra ingredients such as coffee beans, lemon and orange peel, cinnamon sticks, freshly ground nutmeg and anise will also be needed as well as the liquorice-flavoured liqueur anisette, in which all the plants are left to soak.
The most important ingredient for Catalan ratafia, though, is unripe walnuts. The tender green nuts, picked before their shells have hardened, form the base of the liqueur. They are steeped in alcohol along with the rest of the herbs and spices for a minimum of 40 days, a sol i serena (in the sun and night air) before being filtered straight into bottles or decanted into wooden containers for a further three months of ageing.
This can be purchased easily in Europe for 50 Euros or so… but as far as I can tell, it isn’t available here in the US.
Gemma from LaCuinacasa uses this nut-based ratafia for her Catalan “flam” but I’m thinking that any ratafia would be great this way! I wanted to share this with you because her photo looked sooo good! I apologize in advance if my interpretation of the Google translation is off!
500 ml milk
80-100 g. sugar
200 ml ratafia
50 g of sugar in the bottom of mold
Simmer the ratafia in a saucepan until reduced by half.
Meanwhile, two tablespoons sugar, make a caramel (must be a little dark) and place it at the bottom of a plum cake type mold.
In the same pan, put half the milk with sugar and let it heat until the sugar is melted
In a bowl, add eggs and add the remaining cold milk, and then the ratafia and hot milk with the dissolved sugar. Mix it together. Stir, strain it and pour the mold where you put the caramel. Put it in a silver bain marie in the oven 45 minutes at 200 C. When cool you can unmoldand serve it.