Spirits

At Campo di Pere, we have cherries, apricots, plums, pears, figs, grapes, apples, and persimmons. At Gagliardelle, we have two more varieties of plums, even more figs, prickly pears, oranges and pomegranates. Most of that is harvested in the summer, when we find ourselves with more fruit than three people can eat. For years I made more jam than anyone wanted to eat; last year I decided to try something new.

From left to right, Damson plum, grape, and mandarin liqueurs

From left to right, Damson plum, grape, and mandarin liqueurs

I was inspired by a friend who makes an exquisitely smooth and creamy grape liqueur, using the grapes known as uva fragolina. Most people I know who make their own liqueurs make limoncello, which I find a bit dull, now having sampled so many renditions of it after seven years of dinners in Italy. My friend’s liqueur was like nothing I’d ever had before, and I thought I’d try my hand at making some liqueurs that are unusual, at least where I live.

I started out with plums in two different varieties, damson and mirabelle. I made twice as much damson liqueur because I thought I’d like mirabelle less. (As it turns out, I was wrong.) I used large jars that fit about 400g of fruit + an equal weight of sugar + about 250ml of alcohol. I pitted as many plums as I could before tiring of it, after which I just pricked them with forks. I dumped them into the jars, poured the sugar over them, filled the jars to the top with alcohol, and left it all to steep for a long time. I planned on three months, but it took four more for me to tire of reading “finish and bottle liqueurs” on the whiteboard in my kitchen every day. I had avoided recipes that involved adding water because I thought I didn’t want to dilute the alcohol, odd reasoning for someone who doesn’t like liqueurs that taste strongly of alcohol. I later found that I did need to add some water, though just half a cup for each jar.

To be honest, the damson liqueur tastes to me of cough syrup. N disagrees, but he’s only ever had Italian cough syrup, which is completely different from the typically red, fruit-flavored American version. The cough syrup I’ve had here is brown, smells of herbs, gives absolutely no relief, and is horrid, so I can see why N would see absolutely no similarities between it and the damson liqueur. The mirabelle liqueur has an interesting tartness that balances the alcohol really well.

A few months after I started the plum liqueurs, I followed the same procedure with our grapes, which I think may be prosecco grapes. They made a nice liqueur that isn’t too sweet. I didn’t intend to make any citrus liqueurs, but the aunt gave us a big case of mandarins in December, and after using the juice of quite a few to make curd for Pata’s birthday cake, I decided to make use of the skins rather than just throwing them away. I used this recipe and let the skins soak for a little over a month. The result is delicate liqueur that I think may be my favorite so far.

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