How to make Quarante-quatre, a homemade French liqueur

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk/La Bonne Vie

Forty-four days ago, I was just coming back from a trip to France. No, I am not spending my days pining for that wonderful two-and-a-half week break from the hard, physical work of baking. Nor am I marking off each day on the calendar as it goes by.

I know this exact number of days because I have waited for the result of my kitchen experiment — one I started the very first day we got back.

During our travels, Jim and I took a side trip to Lyon on an invitation from our friends Simon and Marie. We walked through the old town, crossed the two rivers, climbed the hills, sipped cafés and wine, and visited Roman ruins.

We looked for the hidden passageways, called traboules, that were used by the Resistance during World War II and by the silk merchants long before that. We went to the market and cooked some fine meals.

But the most enjoyable part of our stay was spent in the company of our hosts, who offered us a supper of local specialties, topped off by the strikingly green local liqueur, Chartreuse.

This liqueur is made from a very old recipe by monks. It contains 130 herbs and flowers that give it its unique natural color and is aged in oak casks. After taking a few sips of this precious liquid, Simon said he had something else to share.

He got up from the table, went over in the corner of the living room, grabbed a nondescript bottle and brought it back to the table. “Here,” he said, “is something else you might want to try. It’s called Quarante-quatre (forty-four), and it was made by neighbors of ours in our hometown.” Jim and I were game. We took a couple of sips, trying to figure out the flavours. And we all had a good laugh talking about moonshine.

I liked the taste of it and asked a few more questions. Simon was quick to tell me it is called Quarante-quatre because the recipe calls for forty-four pieces of sugar and forty-four beans of coffee. I stored this information for future reference. I also packed some sugar cubes in my bag.

The day we returned from our trip, I remembered our conversation and decided to start a batch.

It’s a very simple recipe. The hardest part is letting everything sit for 44 days. But the end result is quite interesting.

I opened it tonight, strained it and took that first golden sip. I was immediately transported back to Lyon and Simon and Marie’s apartment, the good food and laughter around their table topped off with Quarante-quatre.

Here is the recipe for this French homemade liqueur.

QUARANTE-QUATRE

Ingredients

  • 1 orange (organic, if possible)
  • 44 coffee beans
  • 44 sugar cubes
  • 2 or 3 whole cloves
  • 1 liter vodka

Tools

  • Large bottle
  • Knitting needle

Directions

  1. Take the orange and wash it. With the large knitting needle, poke 44 holes into it. Insert the 44 coffee beans, one in each hole. Also poke in the whole cloves.
  2. Take the large bottle (I used a large canning jar), and put 44 sugar cubes in the bottom. Place the orange on top of the sugar. Pour one liter of vodka on top.
  3. Close the bottle. Let sit in a dark corner for 44 days, stirring it every now and then. Strain, and then it is ready.
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