This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
During the middle ages liqueurs were supposed to be medicinal remedies for universal use, but their modern employment is almost wholly for pleasing the palate. As such they follow substantial meals of meat and drink, four la bonne bouche, so as to leave a pleasant impression on the gustatory nerves; therefore, they should never be of great alcoholic strength, but retaining a superb finesse of flavour, and being sweet enough to please ladies. Furthermore, by reason of the specific herbs, and aromatic essences, which go to flavour the different liqueurs, certain medicinal virtues attach themselves respectively to each of the best products, these liqueurs consisting mainly of spirit sweetened with cane sugar, the proportion of such ground work varying from thirty-three to fifty per cent.
It has been well said that these liqueurs are chiefly produced by the alchemist, and the convent. They are of three distinctive qualities. First come Ratafias, or simple liqueurs, in which the sugar, the alcohol, and the aromatic substances are in small quantities; for example, anise water, noyeau, the apricot, and cherry ratafias. But, through the practice of steeping macaroons of the bitter almond in spirit, and calling the result "ratafia," any liqueur of the bitter almond flavour now bears this designation. The . name was got originally from the fact that some such a liqueur used to be drunk at the ratification of compacts, and bargains, as a glass or cordial comfort. At first, the housewife had only to infuse four ounces of sweet almonds, and the same quantity of bitter almonds, in a quart of British gin, together with a pound of loaf sugar. These ingredients were kept in a warm place, being mixed, and stirred frequently for a fortnight, then straining, and filtering into liqueur bottles. Of all the ratafias, Curacoa became facile princeps; the novels of eighty years ago were full of allusions thereto. We remember how the feeble Sir Francis Clavering drank this, and cried over it after breakfast, and how it disagreed with Major Pendennis because of the orange peel.
Fauntleroy possessed the secret of concocting unequalled Curacoa, and when sentenced to death for forgery, took this secret with him to the scaffold. Curacoa is made in Amsterdam from the rind of bitter oranges which have been grown about the island of Curacoa, in the Dutch West Indies. The orange peel, with a little lemon, is steeped in pure spirit for some weeks, adding cinnamon, coriander seed, saffron, and sugar. Curacao is the more proper spelling. Fermented cherries yield an excellent distilled spirit, cherry-water, kirschenwasser; if from a cherry called marasche, it is maraschino. A famous wild cherry-ratafia is still made at Grenoble, and a five-fruited ratafia at Hyeres.
The second quality of liqueurs are those having the essential oils combined with more saccharine and spirituous matters, as anisette, and curacoa (just mentioned). The third are the creams, or superfine liqueurs, as rosa solis, maraschino, Dantzic water, and others. Rosa solis was at one time much esteemed as a cordial, being made with spirits, and various essences, to wit, orangeflower, and cinnamon, etc. In the Fortunes of Nigel, chapter xxi, Sir Walter Scott has told of Dame Ursula "repeating, as the rich cordial trickled forth in a smooth oily stream, ' Right rosa solis as ever washed mulligrubs out of a moody brain.' '
'Originally the Grande Chartreuse was prepared from a secret recipe which has been preserved for more than six hundred years, and was associated with mediaeval religion. This elixir has become developed by the Carthusians into three varieties, the green, familiar to diners out, the yellow to doctors, and the white to valetudinarian dyspeptics. Chartreuse possesses the fragrance of garden herbs, the aromas of several spices, flowers, and nuts, together with the balsamic savour of young green tassels from pine trees. When made directly from bitter almonds, or with pounded kernels of apricots, or peaches, or with cherry laurel leaves, the liqueur is called Noyau. Danzig gold and silver wasser was first produced at Danzig, its peculiarity consisting in small particles of gold leaf, or silver leaf, swimming therein, but without imparting any particular flavour thereto. Benedictine is distilled at Fecamp, in Normandy, originally by the Benedictine monks, but now by a secular company. It resembles Chartreuse in flavour, as derived from the oils of angelica, hyssop, nutmeg and peppermint, whilst containing a large proportion of sugar. Vodka is a Russian liqueur, transparent, and colourless as water, but a fiery beverage for all that, prepared from rye, or potatoes.
It has been defined as "distilled damnation," and must be taken at a draught, since to sip it is considered a proof of a future sojourn in the place of eternal torment. Maraschino is made by macerating a small sour Italian, or Dalmatian cherry, with the crushed stones thereof, and with ten per cent of honey added, the whole being fermented; it takes months to mature. Kimmel, or Kummel, is brandy flavoured with cumin, caraway, and coriander.
The particular medicinal properties (available for curative uses) of these several liqueurs reside in their flavouring herbs, and essences, with which they are respectively impregnated, and which are told about here under their different headings.
Concerning Chartreuse, Dr. Thudicum has related some interesting particulars. "The religious brotherhood called Chartists, or Carthusians, (one compulsory rule of which order was a total abstinence from flesh) devised an elaborately constructed dish which was named a "Chartreuse," "the queen of modern entrees," quoth Careme. "La Grande Chartreuse ne doit contenir, comme on soit, que de legumes et des racines." Such a Chartreuse (the most accomplished of hot vegetable combinations) could be perfect only in the months between May and August, inasmuch as the vegetables necessary for its production are only then in the desired state of growth and tenderness. Eventually, however, parts of fish and shellfish were allowed to be introduced by Careme, leaving only the casing to consist of the legitimate vegetables and roots. At last, together with the Chartists went the Chartreuse, and its name became misapplied to a simple pudding made incongruously of flesh and vegetables, whilst distinguished by French cooks as a la Parisienne. Next the predilections of the Carthusians extended from concretes to abstracts, and from pies they ascended to liqueurs, this advance being effected by a process of evolution which passed through an apple pudding.
The Chartreuse of apples began with apple-jam, (called in mistake marmalade by French and German cooks); then Angelica entered as an ornamenting incrustation over the yellow, red, and white apples cemented together by the jam, the whole being boiled in a water-bath, and turned out on a plate. Here ended the apple Chartreuse, the apples assuming therein their ancient rights, and shapes. But the Angelica wandered to the brandy bottle, and Chartreuse developed into a spirit, the Carthusians becoming at length manufacturers of liqueurs. "Sic transit gloria Carthusianorum." Modern Chartreuse is now compounded at Tarragona, in Spain, having among its herbal ingredients (mostly secret) carnations, and the young buds of pine. Orange liqueur is made, according to an old Dutch recipe, by peeling very thinly ten oranges and ten lemons; then putting the peel into four bottles (in quantity) of good Cape brandy, adding four pounds of white sugar. Let it stand thus for eight, or ten days, stirring each day morning and evening; strain, and bottle.
Concerning Wormwood liqueur, see Absinthe.
Angostura Cordial is chiefly flavoured with bark bearing that name, from the Angostura, or Cusparia febrifuga, other spices being added. This bark has a tonic operation without astringency, being of particular service in the typhoid state of fevers, and especially in tropical dysentery. It contains a volatile oil, resins, gum, salts, and cusparin, tannin not being present. The tree is found abundantly on the mountains near the Orinoko river. Angostura liqueur is now manufactured at Trinidad.
The Table, an excellent culinary magazine, is astonished as to how the use of liqueurs has lately grown in this country. "Time was when they were used only by a few; but now every suburban householder offers them after dinner; and at every luncheon and supper party the liqueurs make their appearance as a matter of course. Even ladies when lunching, or dining alone, regard their coffee and petit verre as quite a necessity. Nor is it the sweet variety only which they patronize; indeed, absinthe, and cognac are as much used as the sweet liqueurs. Benedictine, however, seems to be first favourite; also Chartreuse, and Kummel, are very popular, but there appears to be a general belief that the former of these two is on the decrease. Noyau is quite out of the running, though this was formerly by preeminence the ladies' liqueur; but Curacoa, and crime de menthe have wholly taken its place, with them at least".
The Ratafias are liqueurs which have not been distilled, since, for obtaining the perfume, aroma, and colour of a fruit, its expressed juice may be best put into brandy, so as to fabricate the different ratafias; and because the majority of these juices are full of water strong, brandy must be used. For a qualmish stomach disposed to nausea, and sickness, a ratafia pudding is usefully remedial. Butter a pie dish, and cover its bottom inside with ratafia biscuits in a single layer; proceed in the same way with the sides of the dish, then over all strew some sponge-cake crumbs thickly. Beat an egg, mix it with two ounces of cake crumbs, and about an ounce of crushed ratafias; make a pint of blancmange (using Bird's powder, of noyau flavour); while it is hot beat it with the egg, presently pour into the dish, and after it has stood for a short time, bake it in a steady oven. When the pudding is turned out, garnish it on the top with small lumps of brightly coloured jelly, either raspberry, or red currant. If wishing to use a shallow dish, then reduce the quantities of cake crumbs, and of ratafias mixed in the blanc mange, to one fourth.
Cook only long enough to set, and lightly brown the pudding.
For Grenoble ratafia, "Take three pounds of Morella cherries, and crush them without removing the stones, adding the thinly cut rind of half a lemon, and allow them to steep for a month in two quarts of strong brandy. This may be flavoured at will with cinnamon and cloves. Pass through the sieve, press out the pulp, and filter through paper".
"A captain bold at Halifax, who dwelt in country quarters, Deceived a maid, who hanged herself one morning in her garters; His wicked conscience smited him, he lost his stomach daily, Then took to drinking Ratafie, and thought upon Miss Bailey".
Similarly a Muscat ratafia can be made from stoned Muscat grapes, crushed, and soaked in strong brandy for eight days; then put through a sieve without pressure, and filter, and add sugar to this ratafia.