Greetings, LadyNerds! It's been a few days since the (legal) airing of Downton Abbey season 2 began on PBS here in the States, so I hope you've all had time to catch up (consider this your mild spoiler warning!). If you haven't popped over to our brother site Badass Digest to chime in on the show with Erin, what are you waiting for? New Ginger Maid Ethel to serve you a drink? Like THAT'S gonna happen -- she's got more important things to do.
Speaking of drinks, we have a very important LadyNerd mission to fulfill this week! The final episode of Downton Abbey airs February 19, and it's only proper to celebrate it in style, i.e. by hosting a viewing party. "But Meghan!" you wail. "That's, like, WEEKS away!"
I know it's a. super early for a Nerd to begin planning a shindig and b. a REALLY long time to wait to find out if Matthew ends up with that insipid Lavinia Swine, er, Swire, anyway, or if he braves Lady Mary's vagina. But a Lady knows if you're going to throw a great party, you need to plan ahead. A Nerd knows nothing makes a party better than a Theme, especially a themed drink.
Back in the olden times, when port was considered to strong for a proper lady, proper ladies whispered, "Pshaw!" to each other behind their fans and cooked up a recipe that would bring half the stock at Tattersall's to their knees, but made sure to add lots of sugar so the gentlemen would scorn it as "sissy." This drink is ratafia, and it's basically just fruit and spices soaked in a shitload of really strong brandy for 6-8 weeks.
That might not be tea in those cups ...
Lady Grantham would most definitely have drunk ratafia during the heydey of her debut Season, probably sometime in the 1860s (assuming she's somewhere around 65 in 1916). It might be a little old-fashioned for Lady Sybil, but I doubt she'd turn down a Pimm's no. 3, the old brandy-based Pimm's (and which you can still get as their Winter Cup, which is the lazy LadyNerd's version of this spiced orange ratafia).
"You can take my eligible suitors, but you'll never take my Pimm's No. 3."
Here's a nice fancy-pants old recipe from an 1886 cookbook called The Techno-chemical Receipt Book, if you're really inclined to let your cooking Nerd flag fly:
Orange Ratafia. Slice 20 oranges, pour 13 pounds of rectified spirit of 90 per cent. Tr. over them and let them stand for 8 days. Then press out the fluid, filter it, and add a solution of 10 pounds of sugar in 14 gallons of water.
Easy peasy, Bob's your uncle, right? I'll show you how to make a much simpler modern version of the recipe that calls for a leeetle less sugar.
Yield: enough to fill 2 wine bottles, or about 6 C.
Zest and juice of 6 oranges
11/2 C. granulated sugar
1 C. coriander seeds (about 4 oz.)
4 C. brandy
Mix and pour into a glass jar. Let steep for 6-8 weeks, stirring every couple of weeks.
Strain the mixture carefully -- it's best to use cheesecloth. Discard the orange peel and coriander seeds.
Put the remaining liquid in a clean jar and let the ratafia stand overnight to let the sediment settle. Pour off the clean liquid into pretty bottles and filter the sediment-y stuff through a coffee filter to strain.
Adapted from Food for Friends by Sally Pasley Vargas
Six cups is a bit more manageable than 15 gallons. The original recipe says to "Drink within a year, before the flavor fades," which sounds like advice from Lady Grantham to Lady Mary. Tune in next week for the next installment of LadyNerd: Downton Abbey edition!