Regency Recipe: Ratafia
A Lady's Drink:
Ratafia is a drink you often read about in regency-era novels. It was served at balls and assemblies, and made in the grand houses of the day. Unlike lemonade, orgeat, and punch, ratafia packs a lot of alcohol into those Regency ladies - yes, this was not a drink for gentlemen. Due to the sweetness and the fruity ingredients, it wasn't deemed at all manly.
What is ratafia?
Ratafia is a liqueur made of brandy with fruit, spices, and crushed fruit pits steeped for around 1-2 months. (Note those Regency-era stories with 'spontaneous balls' - either the household staff have ratafia steeping at all times during the Season, or just suspend your disbelief for this part. It takes 4-8 weeks to make!)
After the steeping, the concoction is filtered and sweetened with large amounts of sugar. If you're thinking this must be like a kind of brandy, you're quite right - and note the crushed pits, making ratafia a borderline poison as well. Apricot pits were often used in the recipe, and as we know, these contain cyanide so, you know: drink responsibly!
Robert's Guide to Red Ratafia:
The recipe below dates from 1828, in Robert’s Guide for Butlers & Other Household Staff:
This is a liquor prepared from different kinds of fruits, and is of different colours, according to the fruits made use of. These fruits should be gathered when in their greatest perfection, and the largest and most beautiful of them chosen for the purpose.
The following is the method of making red ratafia, fine and soft:
Take of the black-heart cherries, 24 lbs.
Black cherries, 4 lbs.
Raspberries and strawberries. each, 3 lbs.
Cinnamon, 4 oz.
Mace, 4 oz.
Cloves, 2 drs
Pick the fruit from their stalks and bruise them, in which state let them continue 12 hours, then press out the juice, and to every pint of it add 1/4 lb. of sugar.
When the sugar is dissolved, run the whole through the filtering-bag and add to it 3 quarts of proof spirit.
Then take of cinnamon, 4 oz., mace, 4 oz., and cloves, 2 drs.
Bruise these spices, put them into an alembic with a gallon of proof spirit and 2 quarts of water, and draw off a gallon with a brisk fire.
Add as much of this spicy spirit to the ratafia as will render it agreeable.
About 1/4 is the usual proportion.
10kg Large cherries
1.8kg Black cherries
120g Cinnamon, 4 oz.
120g Nutmeg, 4 oz.
2 Dozen Cloves, 2 drs
Crush the fruits and let it remain pressed for at least 12 hours
Press out the juice
Add 120g of sugar for every 500 ml of liquid
When the sugar is dissolved, run the whole through the sieve or muslin
Add to it 3 litres of proof spirit (I used rum).
In a separate container:
Crush your cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Place them into your demijohn of dame-jeanne (whatever you use to ferment liquor) with a 3.5-4 litres of proof spirit and 2 litres of water.
Heat until the liquid reduces by about 1 litre.
Add as much of the spiced spirit to the juice as you like.
About 1/4 is the usual proportion. Ta-da! A way to dance all night and feel no pain at all. This certainly explains a LOT!