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).