The hiccups will come early to the compost heap this autumn. Not only has it been fed those jams and chutneys rejected by my fit of store-room tidying last week, it has also just received my entire hoard of home made apéritifs. The list is as follows:
Liqueur de mure 1988 – one bottle
Crème de cassis 1989 – one bottle
Crème de cassis 1992 – two bottles
Crème de cassis 2001 – one bottle
Extrait de noyer 2002 – one 1.5 litre bottle
(this is extract of walnut leaves in pure eau de vie
for the prepartion of vin de noyer)
Vin de noix 2006 – one bottle
Sloe liqueur 2006 – one bottle
Crème de cassis 2007 – one bottle
Curaçao maison 2008 – two bottles
And that is the list of those bottles whose location was known to me. I may yet find others. To mitigate my sadness, I have recovered some antique bottles I used for these liqueurs.
Imagine all this alcohol – that is, sugar – poured on grass cuttings which were already liberally dowsed in jam last week – more sugar. All on top of vegetable peelings, some rejected commercial fruit. Add the continuing sunlight. The compost heap, more or less neatly confined to one corner of the vegetable garden, gets the morning sun. Of course it is all going to ferment. It may be my imagination but I can see it heaving, burping, gas bubbles going skywards. Fortunately it does not smell or it is far enough from the house for me not to notice.
The recipes for these alcohols were mostly found in my first edition (I think it is a first edition) of Prosper Montagne's Larousse Gastronomique, (1938) with foreword by Escoffier himself, a gift from a neighbour in our early days at La Chaise. You will find them under 'Liqueurs'. My second French cookery bible was 'La bonne cuisine du Perigord' by La Mazille (Flammarion 1919) which also has recipes for domestic liqueurs.
The reason for the predominace of crème de cassis is that for many years I had some very productive blackcurrant bushes – and there is a limit to the amount of
black currant jelly one family can consume, especially if its head only consumes marmalade. I thought it a fairly harmless cordial when a neighbour at Chantepoule offered some, in very small glasses, to my very small children. But its best known use is for the apéritif , 'kir', actually a means of making somewhat sour white wine drinkable.
The two elements all the apéritif recipes have in common (apart from sugar) is fruit, or fruit tree leaves, and eau de vie, usually plain distilled grape juice purchased from neighbouring farmers. Its alcoholic degree can be quite high – sometimes more than 60 proof..... Until quite recently, farmers had the right to distill their fruits for personal consumption without paying any form of duty. A travelling distillery used to do its rounds of local villages. But this right died with the that generation of farmers in their 80's or over. Now the fermenting fruit has to be taken to a fixed still and duty has to be paid.
The snag with buying eau de vie from a neighbour was that it seldom came in an identifiable bottle. The purchaser had to make a discreet mark on the container. Hence my scrawl, EV, across the corner of a Chardonnay label. Hence a helpful visitor's mistake in making 'kir' for everyone using this 'Chardonnay' and my own
crème de cassis. The rest I can leave to my dear reader's imagination.