Generically ratafia is liquor obtained by maceration of fruits, herbs, roots, stones and species under anisette or very refined alcohol. We can find some elaboration from one ingredient, as a fruit, a flower, a kind of specie or an herb. Usually people use plants, flowers or herbs that are very abundant at the place where they live.
Catalan ratafia is elaborated following a traditional and meticulous ritual, which aim is to obtain medicinal and digestive properties and, at the same time, refined taste. Its preparation is from a complex formula of herbs, species and fruits, when the tender nuts have an essential role, but this preparation needs to add syrup or sugar, to convert it in a flavourful drink.
It’s possible to find ratafia of tender or green nuts with similar characteristics in other points of Europe. Some of these drinks have the same name of ratafia, but others, they have a simple denomination as liquor or spirits of tender/green nuts. Maybe, the most well-known is the “Nocino” from Italy; a drink prepared in Modena area and it’s interesting to know that around this drink contests, festivals and fairs are organized. A popular event is the “Spilamberto” in Italy, a festival with more 180 years of antiquity.
With rigorous referent to drinks with the same name ratafia, we can find them in several places or geographical zones, and curiously, they share other considerations. The prescriptions often belong to the familiar patrimony, and this traditional knowledge has been passed down from parent to child over many generations. In many places, the ratafia is considerate as a typical drink of the zone, and with beneficial properties; characteristics peculiar of the green or tender nuts.
In fact, the formula of these preparations, compared to the ratafia of fruits, they are very proper to the elixirs, to live forever, to the “maimoris” (never dead), to the medicinal liquors and even to the loving philtres. By these healing powers, all are related to quacks, magic and the mystery and the improvement of the prescriptions are to head for to find a type of philosopher’s stone or quintessence. Many of the ingredients of these formula of ratafia of green nuts, we can find them , as we said, in old loving philtres and elixirs, as the case of one elixir in the year 1730, when the colour is obtained by sandal wood, instead of green nuts. Sometimes people added to these brews, gold and silver flakes, and its preparation was right rather an apothecary than a man who makes liquor.
Somehow, without wanting to enter in the esotericism world, in the preparation of the ratafia of tender nuts, besides from their special properties, there is a special ritual that we want to emphasize; it glimpses the spirit of an alchemist, and almost we can talk about an art. So, in spite of excellent formula, the correct extraction and aroma equilibrium of their components, that regularly and successively don’t present the same grade of virtue, it’s not possible to reduce to a simple mathematical formula. We’ll see later, when we come in the process details; now let’s go to talk about general characteristics about ratafia of green nuts.
The final graduation of the liqueur is between 22 and 35 degrees and, as we said at the beginning, the extraction of the aroma is through maceration. Remember that other processes used to this purpose are the infusion and distillation. Sometimes, to elaborate the ratafia, it’s possible to find the combination of several processes.
The maceration of the ingredients under anisette or very refined alcohol, generally wine, has a period between one to nine months. At the end of the maceration, the ratafia is filtered and normally is sweetened with sugar, syrup or caramel. Then, becoming the ageing process, or not, it depends of the manufacturer.
The percentage of sugar has substantially decreased last years; long before the percentage it was higher. Today we can talk about 200 to 300 grams per litre, so with these conditions, we can talk about the ratafia, as a drink with the category, superfine liqueur. The composition of the “Ratafia Russet” follows the prescription of the traditional ratafia of green nuts of the region of “Garrotxa” and mountains areas. Sometimes and commonly, it’s normal to related them with the poetry Jacint Verdaguer legends.
In Catalonia we can find similar drinks in regions as Ripollès, Alt Urgell, Empordà, Pallars Jussà, Bages and the Segarra. Further on our borders, we can find similar drinks in France, in the city as Grenoble o regions as Provence, to give as an example. Also, we know other countries when it’s elaborated the ratafia, as Switzerland, Poland, several countries of East-Europe, and above all, the north of Italy, in the zone of Piamonte, region of Emilia Romana and the Ticino.
Essentially, the prescription of the ratafia of green nuts is composed by many medical herbs, spices in grain and powdered, and the typical green o tender nut, is recollected around the feast of Sant Joan (Saint John). At this time, the conditions and virtues are optimum. Green or tender nuts, with recognized properties, besides to give the colour, it’s responsible of the little characteristic bitter touch.