In Regency England ratafia was considered a ladies’ drink. Men preferred claret, burgundy and port. So what is ratafia? Georgette Heyer describes it as a liqueur flavoured with the kernels of apricots, peaches or cherries. While Cooley’s Cyclopedia of Practical Receipts, 6th edition 1864, defines ratafia as a ‘generic name in France of liqueurs compounded of spirits, sugar and … the juices of fruits or kernels [thereof].”
This brings me to my home-made version of Blackberry Ratafia. It’s been a good year for blackberries. I pop a sun-warmed berry into my mouth and wait for the burst of flavours – sweet, tart, juicy – with a crunch added by the seeds. I pick as many as I can before my scratched arms and legs rebel. The vines are incredibly tenacious. They put down roots wherever they touch the ground and will trip you when you’re not expecting it.
Now about my blackberries. I freeze most of them for pies, muffins etc. But I put aside a goodly portion for my ratafia. Then I assemble the ingredients: sugar, vodka and a jar with a sealing lid. My recipe is flexible. If the summer has been hot, the berries will be sweeter so I use less sugar, sometimes up to half a cup less. Here is my basic recipe:
7 cups of berries – 2 & 1/2 cups sugar – 4 cups of vodka
When assembled I let the mixture sit on my kitchen counter for at least two months, stirring the contents of the jar, occasionally with a sterilized spoon. As we approach the Christmas season I decant my brew. I use a sieve lined with cheesecloth but you can also use a coffee filter. The result is a clear purple liqueur with an earthy blackberry flavour. It makes a lovely gift in a small decanter but I usually keep most of it for my own family. I have even been known to smuggle a bottle onto an airplane in my suitcase. I think the Regency ladies would have enjoyed sipping this luscious potion and likely they did.