Ratafias and Cordials

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Ratafias are infused, sweet beverages of high alcoholic content that enjoyed great popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most were homemade due to the ease of manufacture: ratafias (and all cordials) are merely compounded from already distilled liquors; that is, there is no complicated distillation process. Rather, flavorings are added to the alcohol and left to infuse for a time. Later, the liquid is strained and sweetened, usually by a syrup since sugar’s ability to dissolve is crippled in the presence of alcohol. The French and English used brandy to carry their flavors, as did many southerners. A particularly American adaptation is the orange cordial based on corn whiskey. Oranges were more common in earlier days than one would expect. Before Florida was acquired and the citrus groves developed there, oranges and lemons were cultivated from Louisiana to South Carolina. In 1831, New England Magazine published a report of the Charleston Market: “There are oranges, the growth of Carolina, and the earth produces few larger or better.” These oranges were often part of a spectrum of fruits and flavorings used alone or in combination for cordials: nutmeg, juniper berries, cinnamon, aniseed, angelica, coriander, orange blossoms, jessamine blossoms, strawberries, raspberries, plums, sour cherries, pomegranates, currants, green walnuts, and vanilla.