Friday, September 21, 2012

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Peach Ratafia; There's Still Time

I didn’t make noyau this year — but when Jane Lear broke out a vice and a quart of brandy, she reminded me that it’s not too late to get a batch ready by Thanksgiving.

Still Life: Jane Lear's Recursive Ratafia
Lear is the features director at Martha Stewart Living, was an editor at Gourmet before the magazine folded, and has a stack of cookbooks to her name. Recently, she emailed about peach ratafia, thus confirmed a long-held belief that a note from Jane is a reason to smile. The recipe she’d followed, from Helen Witty’s book Fancy Pantry, is close enough to the ratafia aux noyau recipe we make (usually) around here that they can be used interchangeably in cocktails, aperitifs, and baking.

In her post Obsession: Peach Ratafia, she makes a distinction between familiar wine-based ratafias and those based on brandy:
The peach ratafia I’m talking about is different. Based on brandy and peach pits (for color and an almondy flavor), it has more in common with the ratafias of the Georgian and Regency eras, which today have their own Facebook pages. I would kill to have a conversation with Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer about that fact.  
But instead I turned to Gerald Asher, Gourmet’s wine editor for 30 years and the author, most recently, of A Vineyard in My Glass, for context. ”Ratafia was originally the unfermented sweet grape juice preserved and stopped from fermenting by adding brandy,” he explained. That brandy, he noted, was usually young, fiery stuff, not aged Cognac. “The French—women, mostly—drank a small glass of ratafia as an aperitif, in the same way the French drink a small glass of ruby port, or concoctions like Lillet or Dubonnet.” 
Fortunately, noyau can be made year-round, even with out of season peaches, since its defining marzipan and almond tastes are derived from kernels within the peach pits. Lear’s peach ratafia, however, calls for fresh peach slices in addition to cracked pits from those fruits.

Now that our days are growing shorter, decent peaches are becoming scarce, but if you can lay your hands on some, try her version. The advantage of Lear's approach over mine? Her's yields a batch of brandied peaches as well as the cordial. Not, it should be noted, a horrible thing.


Lucindaville said...

Fancy Pantry is a must is always a go to book.

Matthew Rowley said...

It sure is. Because I have so many cookbooks, and often many on a particular topic, I sometimes think of those worth keeping as must-have, nice-to-have, and only-for-the-geeks.

Must-haves are those — if you have room for only one book on a topic — that could be that book. I've been referring to Fancy Pantry for almost 15 years as one of the best generalist canning books in English.

Good call.