What Is Ratafia?

I knew ratafia was something that characters in Regency romance novels drank and that it was often deemed “sickeningly sweet” and “a drink for ladies” by all the rogues. But what was in it, exactly? And what did it taste like? Obviously, I googled it.

Ratafia is basically alcohol sweetened with fruit, herbs and spices. I found recipes calling for vodka, wine, brandy; quince, cherries, all sorts of berries.

Obviously, I had to make it myself. I came up with the following recipe based on the others that I found, the fruit that was in season, and the spices I had in the house. I’m naming it after myself, because why not?

Maya’s Spiced Cherry Ratafia

1 cup organic cherries

1/4 cup organic sugar

1/4 brandy

Splashes of spices: cloves, cinnamon, vanilla

****

Assemble your ingredients so you’re not dashing out to the shop in the middle of the recipe. I often do this and it’s vexing.

ratafia ingredients
Assemble your ingredients

Pit the cherries. I just used my fingers. Put them in a bowl and gently mash them with a potato masher.

cherries ratafia
Mash up those cherries!

Pour the cherries into a glass container with a lid. You’ll strain this later, so it’ doesn’t have to be perfectly done.

Add the sugar and the brandy.

For the spices: In the slightest bit of water, I boiled some ground cloves and cinnamon because that’s what I had in the house. We’re talking teaspoons of water and splashes of spices here. Pour this into the ratafia jar with everything else and add a splash of vanilla.

As you can see, this recipe doesn’t make enough for a ballroom full of people. But really, how much of this stuff are you going to drink?

ratafia
A bottle of ratafia, ready to chill.

Put a lid on it and refrigerate it for 3 to 5 weeks.

When you’re ready to drink it, you’ll want to strain it first. I used Regency cheese cloth (because that’s what the other recipes suggested and it seemed so appropo). See how I have it taut over the glass? Don’t do that–it won’t work. Give it some slack and the good stuff will slip through into your vintage cocktail glass (these ones are courtesy of my grandma).

Straining ratafia
Regency cheesecloth rubberband-ed around a glass.

Five weeks laterI was desperate for a blog topic and thought perhaps I should finish up this post. Yes, this involved drinking ratafia before 5:00 pm, but it was for research!

Besides, I wasn’t about to drink the whole bottle. Just a sip from this one, pretty glass of homemade ratafia.

glass of ratafia
Mmm…tastes like trouble!

I expected the worst. I truly did. But…it’s actually quite nice!

It tastes like Christmas time. The spices hit first, then the smooth, deep flavor of the cherry.

One hardly notices the brandy at all, which everyone knows means Trouble.

Conclusion: Ratafia tastes like a compromising position at a Christmas party. Delicious!

Any other food or drink from romance novels that you’ve wondered about?

Comments

Lisa
Reply

Thanks for sharing this recipe with us Maya! :) It sounds fruity, sweet and delicious-right up my alley!

I’ve always wondered what grog consisted of, and what exactly shirred and/or coddled eggs were. Wonder if they’re anything like poached eggs. Off to Google!

Maya
Reply

Grog?! I’m afraid to search…but I will :)

Mark
Reply

Tastes like trouble is right! I hope hubby and Penny had a sippy of your brew.

Vanessa
Reply

Ratafia sounds like the origins of Pimms. Yummy! I toss Pimms Winter Cup into my mulled wine; it makes it extra specially lethal :)

Grog is water and rum or water and weak beer. It seems to have morphed into hot toddies in the 20th century.

Coddled eggs are just gently boiled eggs, either in the shell or another container, like a ramekin or egg poacher. Salmonella anyone?

Maya
Reply

All of those things sound disgusting (except for your Pimms Winter Cup in mulled wine beverage–yum!). I am now reconsidering my “Making of Regency food and drink” blog series.

Susan
Reply

Only for medicinal, I mean research, purposes, right? Your attention to detail on behalf of your readers is commendable. You must certainly continue to research all of the historical alcoholic beverages for us. :-)

Seriously, I must have read about ratafia a thousand times and never bothered to actually look it up. I just imagined it was something like sherry since that’s the other beverage always offered up to women. Very good to know.

Most of the historical Regency dishes/foods sound pretty nasty to me, truth be told. Buttered beer, steak and kidney pie, blancmange (was this Regency or Victorian–can’t remember), puddings (inc. black/blood and white), etc. Overcooked, oversauced food to cover up questionable ingredients.

Pimms cups are a more recent invention, of course–I used to really enjoy these in the warmer months.

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