Abruzzo is famous for its nose to tail eating, but what about arboreal and plant-based fruit and leaf drinking – can we apply a similar rule, using a cherry tree for example?
Abruzzo’s wild black cherry liqueur, Ratafia has been hungrily devoured the world over thanks not just to being a wonderful drink but its migrants taking a few cherry stones to plant in their new lands. The poet Gabriele D’Annunzio declared it to be “the elixir of Abruzzo” praising its sweetness and aphrodisiac qualities. The recipe varies across the region and amongst the different generations (we’re giving 2 spice variations for you to try out), but the basics are squishily ripe sour amarena cherries which are steeped in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, that has sat in the summer sun for 40 days, then decanted, sugar and alcohol added and the mix left for another 40 days before drinking! It’s a liqueur that you drink young, it’s fabulous in cocktails and it’s wonderful in the winter for a hit of summer if the bottle lasts that long!
These prized cherries themselves are thought to have arrived in Abruzzo via Piedmont with the arrival of Cistercian monks in the region, but the beginnings of this deep purple drink date back to ancient Rome when it was believed to be the drink of the gods and symbolised a blood pact. It was used by generals for peace accords with the hearty toast – ‘Pax Rata Fiat’ (peace is ratified) and is the traditional drink when you ratify a legal document, in which case a shot and ‘Pacta Rata Fiat’, uttered… we were given a shot when we purchased our house.
Less widely known to non-Abruzzese is the liqueur 100 Foglie di amarena (100 Amarena Cherry Leaves) that’s also known as Amarenillo from Le Marche down to Puglia and in France as Guignolet, which uses leaves or cherries and is much liked and promoted by Chef David Lebovitz. This liqueur uses cherry leaves instead of fruit for a surprising velvety rich cherry flavoured drink and was particularly fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries. A tip from a friend is to use local Visciole cherry leaves as they give a rich, darker taste! Do not try ingesting the leaves as they are toxic when broken down in the gut.
LifeInAbruzzo Group Tip
For those living or thinking of moving to Abruzzo and thinking about planting a cherry tree, do check in with your local Forestale for an affordable amarena or similar sour cherry sapling, expect fruit from between 3-7 years after planting. If you want to try a good Ratafia, Santo Spirit’s Aroma d’Abruzzo. is one to take a look at they have a good recipe page too, check out their cod in ratafia also Praesidium’s comes highly recommended that is based in Prezza.
Cherry Tree Liqueur Recipes!
Abruzzo Cherry Ratafià
- `1 kg Pitted Ripe Sour Cherries
- 1 l Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
- 300 g Drinking Alcohol
- 300 g Caster Sugar
Spices & Herbs
- 20 g Vanilla, 1 Cinnamon Stick or
- 1 Cinnamon Stick, 5 Cloves
- Remove the cherry stems, rinse and clean them by dabbing them with a cloth, then de-stone them with the appropriate tool or cut them in half and throw away the stones if you want a less almondy taste.
- Put the cherry halves and cherry juice leaks in an airtight glass container, add your choice of spices and the wine. Close the container and make sure it gets a few hours in the direct summer sun daily for 40 days. Bring it back indoors at night to avoid excessive changes in temperature. Be careful that in this phase as the cherries will ferment, so it is important that the liquid in the bottle remains at least a dozen centimetres below the cap to counter an explosion! Gently shake the container two or three times a week.
- After 40 days, drain the cherries through a cloth, remove the spices and add only the wine back into the container. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves completely.
- Squeeze the cherries through a potato masher to recover as much juice as possible, add to your bottle and then add the alcohol and stir. Close the bottle and let it mature for 40 more days in a cool, dark place. (Don't let the remains of the cherries go to waste, they're great swirled into cupcakes or in ice-cream).
100 Foglie di Amarena
- 100 Washed cherry leaves
- 1 l Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
- 300 g Alcohol
- Caster Sugar
- Wash, drain and air-dry your cherry leaves. Place them in an airtight glass jar with the wine to let them steep for 10 days in the dark.
- Filter the contents of the jar with a colander or a muslin cloth. Gently heat the mixture and then add the sugar and alcohol. The heat will make it easier for the sugar to dissolve. Stir until the sugar is well mixed in.
- Bottle and let it rest for at least 40 days before consuming it. The longer you let it rest, the better it will be!
Thanks to Rose Morgan for the use of her Ratafia Brew photo!