This post is a follow-up on the Jane Austen Happy Hour workshop at last weekend’s RT convention where fellow Austen Authors Karen Doornebos, Marilyn Brant, Sharon Lathan, C. Allyn Pierson and I discussed regency-era alcoholic beverages, complete with taste-testing. I provided ratafia, and since I’d forgotten to bring the recipe cards, I volunteered to post the recipe on the blog. I’m sure more will be posted about the event, but I’m still recovering from all the excitement!
For those who didn’t attend, here’s the gist of my talk. Ratafia was one of the ladies’ beverages, along with lemonade, orgeat, and punch, so I assumed it was similarly low in alcoholic content. Silly me! It’s a liqueur made of brandy with fruit, spices, and crushed fruit pits steeped in it for 1-2 months, then filtered and sweetened with large amounts of sugar. The sweetness and fruitiness meant that men didn’t touch the stuff, but if you think about that recipe for a minute, you’ll realize it’s nothing more than slightly diluted flavored brandy. For added spice, as it were, some of the fruit pits used in making it contained hydrogen cyanide. The resulting drink is rather tasty, but highly intoxicating. Those ladies must have been laughing behind their fans at the gentlemen who blithely assumed they were drinking a dull concoction!
The recipe I used was a combination of various period recipes. The ingredients of period recipes depend on the season and availability; I followed this practice adapted to what was available in the supermarket and my kitchen. I skipped all the fruit pits, thinking that it might be wisest to go easy on the cyanide.
3 liters of brandy
3 pounds of peaches
2 pounds of raspberries
1 pound strawberries
6 cinnamon sticks, cracked
I partially crushed the fruit, then mixed everything together and allowed it to steep for two months, then drained it through a cheesecloth, squeezing out any remaining juice from the fruit. This produced about 4 liters of liquid, to which I added 3 cups of sugar. Upon tasting it, I realized that even if it was a period recipe, I couldn’t possibly serve this to workshop attendees in the mid-afternoon, so I added 2 liters of white grape juice. As anyone who tasted it can testify, it was still very, very strong.
Some people also asked for my list of Regency terms for drunks, drunkenness and drinking. The 15 terms found in Georgette Heyer’s novels are ape-drunk (very drunk), to be with malt above water, bosky, drunk as a wheelbarrow, dipping rather deep (drinking heavily), making indentures (drinking), a trifle disguised, eaten Hull cheese, foxed, half-sprung (tipsy), jug-bitten, on the cut (on a drinking binge), properly shot in the neck, tap-hackled, and top-heavy. Other regency terms included boosey, bowsy, chirping merry, clear (very drunk), corned, crown office, cup-shot, cut, as drunk as David’s sow, drop in his eye, drunk as an emperor, flawd or floor’d, flustered, in the gun, half seas over, swallowed a hare, hickey (tipsy), hockey (drunk on small beer), hocus, lush or lushy, maudlin drunk, mauled, mellow (almost drunk), nazy, in a merry pin, pogy, pot-valiant, sack, sucky, surveyor of the highways (drunk and reeling), tipsy, womble-ty-cropt, wrapt up in warm flannel. It’s enough to make one think that nobody in the regency was ever sober!
Here are some of the period recipes I found:
From Robert’s Guide for Butlers & Other Household Staff, published 1828:
Into one quart of brandy pour half a pint of cherry juice, as much currant juice, as much of raspberry juice, add a few cloves, and some white pepper in grains, two grains of green coriander, and a stick or two of cinnamon, then pound the stones of cherries, and put them in wood and all. Add about twenty five or thirty kernels of apricots. Stop your demijohn close and let it infuse for one month in the shade, shaking it five or six times in that time at the end of which strain it through a flannel bag, then through a filtering paper, and then bottle it and cork close for use; you can make any quantity you chose, only by adding or increasing more brandy or other ingredients.
Some slightly (but not much) weaker Victorian recipes:
From The Household Cyclopedia of General Information, 1881:
This a liquor prepared from different kinds of fruits, and is of different colors, 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.; 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.
Dry or Sharp Ratafia
Take of cherries and gooseberries, each 30 lbs., mulberries, 7 lbs., raspberries, 10 lbs.; Pick all these fruits clean from their stalks, etc., bruise them and let them stand 12 hours, but do not suffer them to ferment. Press out the juice, and to every pint add 3 oz. of sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, run it through the filtering-bag, and to every 5 pints of liquor add 4 pints of proof spirit, together with the same proportion of spirit drawn from spices.
Take of nutmegs, 8 oz., bitter almonds, 10 lbs., Lisbon sugar, 8 lbs., ambergris, 10 grs. Infuse these ingredients three days in 10 galls. of proof spirit and filter it through a flannel bag for use. The nutmegs and bitter almonds must be bruised and the ambergris rubbed with the Lisbon sugar in a marble mortar, before they are infused in the spirit.
From The Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks, 1862
Ratafia of Raspberries
12 lbs. of raspberries, the juice of them boiled for 5 minutes with 20 lbs. of sugar; dissolve in 4 1/2 gallons of water; strain, add 4 gallons of alcohol, 95 per cent. Filter.
If you’re still feeling sober after reading all of those, you must have a very strong head!