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.