Friday, July 1, 2011

Ratafia -- The Lady's Choice

Ladies in Regency novels frequently drink ratafia. It has become the quintessential Regency romance drink, in fact, favoured by authors. I knew it was a sweet wine, but I really knew nothing more until I came across several recipes and options for making ratafia in "The Professed Cook", a wonderful cookery from 1812 which I found downloadable at Google Books.
"The Professed Cook" has a section titled Des Ratafiats or Of sweet Drams or Cordials. It includes some ten recipes for different versions of ratafia. They all begin with brandy and they all take thirty to forty days to prepare and infuse. The adventurous cook, it seems, can add almost anything to the brandy. Some of the ingredients listed in "The Professed Cook" include walnuts, quinces, orange-flowers, juniper-berries, lemon-peel, aniseseeds and apricots. Plenty of sugar is included and three spices in these receipts in particular--coriander, cinnamon and cloves.

Ratafia was commercially bottled during the Regency and sold at wine merchants like Berry Bros. and Rudd in London. Supplies must have been limited during the Napoleonic Wars and no doubt ratafia, like so many other wines, was a prime article for smugglers. Ratafia is still commercially produced today.
left photo by Yeza, via Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons

Presumably ratafia was considered a drink suitable for ladies because of the addition of fruit, sugar and spices. The brandy was there, but it was diluted and infused with innocuous ingredients which would not turn 'weak' female heads. Grrrr! One of my heroines demanded madeira instead! Modern day ratafia has an alcohol content of 25%; if the Regency version was similar, the ladies should not have been supping it so freely!

Ratafia still makes the news today, and modern day receipts are to be found on the Internet. Check out these websites:

The Catalan newsagency--ratafia-sweet-green-walnut-liqueur-finds-new-public

The Old Foodie--for-love-of-ratafia


I would like to buy and sample some ratafia; I don't think I'll try my hand at making it!

'Til next time,



Diane Farr said...

Someone brought ratafia to the Beau Monde (Regency writers' chapter of Romance Writers of America) ball at one of the RWA conferences I attended. It was delicious! Everyone sampled it "for research purposes." Those Corinthians who turn their noses up at the ladies' ratafia don't know what they're missing.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

How wonderful! If it's delicious, and 25% alcohol, I can see a lot of over-indulgence happening. Thanks, Diane!