Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crème de Cassis and a Cooling Kir

Like the floral wash of sun-ripe melon or the cool click of metal at an evening game of boules, some sensory experiences so encapsulate French summers that they summon that region and season to mind in an instant. A smooth, tranquil kir does this for me, perhaps better than anything else.

Though famous today, Kir is a relatively new drink. The Burgundian city of Dijon is rich in blackcurrants (cassis), which have been popular for centuries in baking and as a remedy for snakebites. Through the ages, the region has produced a red fruit Ratafia de Cassis – blackcurrant and mixed fruit liqueur that's flavored with peach or cherry kernels and bitter almonds. (For an authentic cherry Ratafia recipe, visit Carolyn over at 18th Century Cuisine).

But 1841 seems to mark the first appearance of the sweetened blackcurrant liqueur Crème de Cassis. The Burgundians approved, and “blanc cassis” (white wine with a little Crème de Cassis) became Dijon’s most popular apéritif, while Ratafia de Cassis faded into the background. By World War II, the blanc cassis craze had been all but forgotten, but then in 1945 priest and resistance hero Canon Félix Kir was elected major of Dijon and made the drink the official apéritif of the city as a way to promote local products. So white wine and Crème de Cassis became the Kir we know today.

This recipe has one major difference from any other I’ve ever published: it isn’t tested yet. Rather, this post is an invitation to join the experiment. If you have access to blackcurrants, you may want to start your own batch now, because the whole thing takes at least a month to steep. So it’s a risk, but I don't want you to miss currant season - blackcurrants are a rare sight indeed at New York markets. And you can take heart in the fact that I’ve been researching this recipe for a while.

If you can’t wait a month or don’t like the prospect of undertaking such a project before you know whether or not my kitchen blew up, Crème de Cassis is easily found these days – I'm particularly fond of the version made by Trénel Fils. Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of the liqueur with champagne for Kir Royale – probably the best-known use of Cassis in the States – or with pinot noir for a Communist. But I prefer the less flashy Kir as a quiet, cooling respite from a long, summer day.

Success! Read about the tasting and find French recipes for Crème de Cassis cocktails here.

Mercedes at Desert Candy has tipped me off that without the aid of at least some sunlight, you may want to leave your Cassis to steep for an extra month. Sound like good advice to me. Thanks Mercedes!

Maggie at Salem, Oregon Socialists sources her currants from One Green World. The company ships currant bushes (as well as every other sort of berry, fruit, or nut tree you can imagine) and has fresh fruit sales in season.

1 ½ lb fresh blackcurrants
3 cups vodka
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick, cracked or crushed

Rinse and drain the blackcurrants and remove any damaged fruit. In a large bowl, crush the currants with your hands (or pulse a couple of times in a food processor) and mix well with the other ingredients. Put into clean jam or mason jars and let steep for a month. Some recipes recommend leaving the jars in the sun, but a warm place in the kitchen is fine.

After a month, strain the mixture through a few layers of cheesecloth, squeeze out as much juice as you can, and bottle. I'll meet you here in a month for the tasting.


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Wow this sounds great, Amanda! I have never seen fresh black currants! However, I am happy to say that I did find a farmer's market about 45 minutes North of where I live and we are planning a pilgramage there next Saturday! I can hardly wait to see what goodies we can find!

marisa said...

What a great post! I'm going to look for blackcurrants this week! This looks easy and fun.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hello Jenn! I just love blackcurrants, but they are tough to find state-side. There are many more redcurrants growing here, I find. But in Britain, it's a very common flavor. All the purple candy there when I was small was blackcurrant rather than grape.
I really can't wait to hear about the market you're going to! Take some pictures if you think of it!
And get yourself a bottle of Creme de Cassis - I can imagine your coming up with some pretty cool things to do with it!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Marisa! It is easy - yet strangely satisfying! The deep purple pulp in the jar is a beautiful sight! Hope you find your blackcurrants!

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Nominated you for the Bloggers for positive Change Award.
Check it out on the Great Big Veg Challenge blogspot!

Sylvia said...

This is great post , I normally di Kir with sparkling or champagne,sometimes with white wunw never with vodka and fresh blackcourrant. I loved the idea

Figs Olives Wine said...

Charlotte, thank you so much for thinking of me! I really am honored, and I think your project is extraordinary - I get sad every time you change letters because I don't want the blog to end.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Sylvia, I completely agree! Once this is ready, I will absolutely be mixing it with those things too! Thanks for visiting.

Joanne Rendell said...

it's like ribena for grown-ups! i love it.

Jan said...

What a beautiful post and a gorgeous site! I'm really happy I found you, and I'll be back often.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Jo - You're so right, and it's comforting like ribena too! I just got back from 3 hours at the dentist and feeling like I've been through the wringer. A kir later, I am infinitely soothed.

Hi Jan and welcome! I'm so happy you like Figs Olives Wine - stay in touch.

Loulou said...

on my sister's first visit to France I introduced her to the kir. she fell in love and we drank them every chance we had! the kir is a wonderful apéritif!

Mercedes said...

I grew up in a household that always had wine but never any other alcohol. The only drink that my mom ever indulged in on a special occasion was a Lillet or a kir. Therefore, I've always been familiar with creme de cassis, we vacationed near Aix-en-Provence and would always drive over to Cassis for the day where I loved picking up the unique striped rocks on the beach there.

Anyway, this is to say that I loved all the information in your post, and to say that I've made that recipe for creme de cassis.
The first time I was about 16 and saw a recipe in a newspaper somewhere and decided to make it. I bottled them up and gave them to family friends as Christmas gifts (we got a lot of jokes about teeneagers making moonshine). Since then, I've made it twice more, once substituting blackberries.
The recipe works quite well, but I find it is better about 2 months after making. The only qualm is that it can be a tad more harsh/strong than professionally made stuff, but not unappealingly so.

Also, one of my favorite uses for creme de cassis is to pour a tiny bit over vanilla ice cream. You can layer berries, ice cream, and creme de cassis in tall glasses, one of my favorite desserts!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Loulou, aren't they a wonderful end to the day/ start to the evening? I'm surprised they aren't more prevalent over here. Though you do see the kir royale quite a bit - there's just something so soothing and refreshing about the original kir!

Hi Mercedes - What a beautiful memory; I've never been to Cassis but have spent plenty of time in Aix - a lovely town with great markets! Thanks so much for the advice about the timing! I'll taste at 1 month and then keep most of it for another. Did you leave it in the sun or just in a warm place?
I like my crème de cassis swirled through ice cream too, and also drizzled over fresh peaches. mmmm
PS. I'm a Lillet fan too!

Mercedes said...

Mine was shoved in a kitchen corner, so probably only a semi-warm place. That's probably why it took longer to mature, I bet if it was in the sun it would be closer to the month required in the original

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Mercedes - That makes perfect sense! I've been letting mine sit in a sometimes sunny part of the floor in front of the window. I think I'll still do the tasting at 1 month and at 2 just to gage the difference. Thanks for the advice!

Jen said...

We still have currants here in MI - I can't wait!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jen, that's great! I'm so glad they're still around. Let me know how it turns out!

Maggie said...

I have been making creme de cassis for a couple of years. Got my 5 varieties of black currants from One Green World - (I live in Oregon, but they may ship other places...)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Maggie, wonderful! Thanks so much for the information - I really appreciate it, and I'll post it now.

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