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Friday, 8 January 2010

Of Liqueurs

Well the holiday season is over and everyday life has reclaimed us. We've seen friends for meals, talked to family and friends on the phone and from some it was simply the annual Christmas card. Good to hear from everyone, see everyone etc.

In 2009 we must clearly have been naughty though. Not only did Santa miss our chimney during the storms on Christmas eve, no also the Epiphany witch, "la Befana" didn't call to see us this year. I don't know what happened! Normally she comes and see us on the 6th riding one of our neghbour's donkeys accompanied by Mauro playing the bagpipes and brings us some oranges and nuts. Last year we must have been particularly good, because she brought us a calendar with photos of the village, but this year...

Well never mind. The weather for the most part has continued to be rotten. Lat week we had some more snow, which didn't hang around this time though. Yesterday we found some old glass shower doors deposited at a rubbish tip near us, ideal for building a cold frame to start seeds off in. Today I was hoping to construct it, but it's been pissing it down again all day, so no can do.

So on these long, dark and cold evenings we sit by the fire and enjoy some of the fruits of our labours, particularly some of the liqueurs I've started experimenting with this year. I thought I'll let you partake in the results of these experiments.

Some of these liqueurs take quite some time before they are ready, but they are well worth the effort. The best thing is that many are made from ingredients which otherwise land directly on the compost. Here is what we've made so far.

Digestivo della Nonna (Granny's Digestif)

No this isn't actually my granny, but the Epiphany Witch, when she passed by last year. The drink's ingredients are Lemon balm, lemon zest and coffee steeped in alcohol and cut with sugar and water (nb. when I talk of alcohol, in Italy you can buy 95% potable alcohol for liqueur making. Inhabitants of more northern climes will be surprised to hear that this not the favourite tipple of the local tramp population). It is drinkable after 6 months and this was soooo good, Susan declared it her favourite of them all and hence it didn't last very long. So success!!!

Next we tried a Rosemary Liqueur

This strictly speaking wasn't a liqueur at all, but mor a fortified wine in the style of a dry Martini. Rosemary is steeped in alcohol for a few days which is than added to dry white wine coming out at about 17% AbV. Well chilled it made a good apperitif, but not suitable for long term storage.

I made two recipes involving cherries: Wild Cherry Ratafia and Cherry Stone Liqueur.

The former invloves steeping some cherries together with cherry leaves, cinnamon and cloves in Grappa and sugar on a sunny window sill. It comes out at about 30% AbV with a beautiful bright red colour. The spices and cherry worked really well together, it's realively quick to make, but alas I didn't make nearly enough of it!

The other cherry recipe involved using the stones, steeped in alcohol for a few months and the cut down with sugar and water. This surprisingly tastes really almondy, almost like marzipan! I suppose cherries and almonds are related plants. We're still enjoying that.

Another herbal concoction was Sage Grappa.

Simple steep a handful of sage in grappa for a few days, than add some honey to sweeten it. This is not too sweet and probably a great cure, or prevention, for colds (not that we ever get any).

Most recipes up to this point I had taken from a recipe book. My first venture in creating my own mix was a 25 herb liqueur. Needless to say that the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret handed down from generation to generation since last Friday, however I can tell you that I steeped every herb I could find both on our land and wild at the end of July, plus a few preserved seeds from earlier in the season, such as angelica seed, coriander. The resulting brew was (yes alas was...) bright green and not unlike Chartreuse, the recipe of which has been a secret of some French monks since... well at least the Friday before last.

A few days ago I declared my Melon Liqueur ready.

This is made by steeping the rind of the melons in alcohol. It is pleasantly delicate in flavour, with just a slight bitter edge balancing the sweetness.
Another nice one which was (and still is) particularly nice over the festive season, Spiced Blackberry Liqueur

Blackberries together with cloves and cinnamon bark is steeped in alcohol, than cut down to about 43%AbV. It turns out the colour of a well known 1970's Beat combo and the spicyness went really well with my spicy Christmas biscuits.
Another one turning a similar colour is Elderberry Grappa.
I know they are elderflowers on the picture, but I didn't have a photo of elderberries handy. Anyway, the berries get steeped in grappa for 40 days. The resulting brew is only lightly sweetened. Another great flu preventative. Had we not had this, I'm sure we would have come down with swine flu!
Another of my own creations was a hop liqueur (sorry no photo). There are loads of wild hops growing around us and I kept wondering what to do with them. Last year I attempted brewing a trial batch of maize beer flavoured with hops. It didn't turn out a success. So I thought the bitterness and aroma of hops might work well as a liqueur, balancing the sweetness. I'm quite happy with the result, but next year I think I need to cut the strength a bit more, it's come out at approximately 51%AbV.
Some liqueurs take longer than others, so 2 of my creations won't be ready for drinking until next summer: a traditional Nocino, walnut liqueur, which is made from green walnuts in june and turns a thick, murky greeny black and a Gineprino, juniper liqueur, a bit like a sweet gin (saves you having to add your tonic water).
Because the ingredients are quite expensive, namely the alcohol, we've only made quite small quantities of these drinks. Anyone wanting to buy any of those concotions of me, put your "en primeur" offers in now for next year. :-)


Stefaneener said...

They all sound very intriguing. You must stay extra healthy.

Ayak said...

Mmmm...they all sound absolutely wonderful!

Have you ever made rumtopf? I had a huge rumtopf jar in England years ago, which somehow got mislaid..but I've been thinking recently about trying to find a suitable replacement here and starting one off this year. I'll have to buy some rum duty free when I come back from my trip in April. We have so many lovely fruits here, it's another delicious way of making use of them

Ruralrose said...

Wow you have a great thing going there - stay warm even if alcohol induced - peace

chaiselongue said...

You must have been having a good time, drinking all of these liqueurs! As I read each one, I though 'must try that' - they all sound wonderful. The elderberry one sounds interesting as we have an elder in our garden. In Wales we used to make wine with elderberries, but here we don't need to - the Languedoc is said to be the biggest vineyard in the world and we'd get laughed at making wine with elderberries! Grapes are better for wine, too, but this sounds good.

Mr. H. said...

Fascinating, I know next to nothing about this subject and found each of your liqueurs to be quite intriguing. The neat thing is that we have many of the same ingredients, I will have to read up on this some more one of these days.

Shower doors would be great for a cold frame, it's amazing what one can find in the rubbish heap. Hopefully the weather will clear a bit so you can start on the project.

So sorry that la Befana passed you by this year, perhaps next year she will realize her mistake and bring extra goodies.

Heiko said...

Stefany, well we are very healthy, not sure if its because or despite the liqueurs. However, preserving herbs and fruit in alcohol is a very effective way of retaining all the goodness of the raw materials. The key is always of course to inbibe in moderation.

Ayak, yes I have made rumtopf too and I love it. So easy and delicious!

Chaiselongue, the elderberry grappa is quite easy to make: Steep 1/2 litre of destalked elderberries and the zest of 1/2 a lemon in 1 litre of decent quality grappa or vodka (min. 40%) for 40 days. Add sugar to taste (I added 40g)and leave to rest for another month or so.

Mr. H the principal of liqueur making is quite simple and a great way of really preserving the flavours as well as the goodness of your raw material. It helps though if you have access to reasonably priced alcohol. Most recipes were made with 95% stuff. One of the great things about liqueur making are all the beautiful different colours.

Kristin said...

I found you through Sicilian Sisters. I enjoyed reading this post. I think it's wonderful that you make all those concoctions. They would sell for a bundle around here.