Some years ago when Anne, my almost-daughter, returned to the States from living in the south of France for some years she came toting her homemade coing liqueur. Unfortunately my high school French did not include coing so I hadn’t a clue what the flavor might be until she began proclaiming the fecundity of the quince tree on the hill behind their house in Draguignon. I couldn’t much discern the normal astringency of the dry, tart fruit in the ambrosial liqueur that Anne had produced. It was, in fact, so wonderfully aromatic and nectarous that I became a devoteé of homemade liqueurs.
My devotion, however, was not equal to the search for the alcohol pour fruits available to the home brewer in France. I really did try to locate this specialty alcohol but had no success. So, I turned to the 151 proof alcohol that had recently been reintroduced to liquor stores in upstate New York. When Anne came to visit we went at the moonshine full-force! At first, we tried quince as she had done in France, but the quince that we got were just too dry and flavorless so we threw out the bathtub gin that we produced!
We moved on to peaches, pears, and even rhubarb. The first small batch of pêche liqueur (‘cause now I’m seriously French) was so, so strong that it almost killed us – it was true rot gut. So, we changed our main ingredient from 151 proof alcohol to the much milder vodka and the results were much smoother. You can use 151 IF you dilute it with an equal amount of water. However, I still prefer the smoothness of vodka over the still harsh palate-numbing 151. I try to make some every summer and/or fall – I particularly love pear liqueur – or as I now call it “Poire Judith eau de vie” – so will make a large batch this fall.
You can make liqueurs out of almost any fruit or berry. A good proportion is 1¼ pounds of chopped fruit (I don’t peel it) or berries to about 3 cups of vodka (or 1½ cups 151 and 1½ cups water). To this mix you add 1 to 1¼ cups of sugar – depending on the sweetness of the fruit or berry – or more if you really like a syrupy liqueur. You mix it all together and place in a nonreactive container. Cover and place in a cool, dark spot for at least 1 month, stirring about once a week. (You can store it for up to 3 months before straining for stronger fruit flavor.) Then, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth into one large or a few small glass containers with covers. Store in a cool, dark spot. The longer the liqueur stands the mellower the flavor. However, over a long period of storage, the sweetness will often decrease as the glucose and fructose in the sugar (don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?) turn to simple sugar giving a less sweet flavor. If the end result is not as sweet as you like, you can always add just a bit of heavy sugar syrup.
I present my liqueurs in lovely little bottles (which are available in many houseware stores) as a gift for all sorts of occasions – always a hit! I offer you a toast of last year’s pêche eau de vie!