Colonial Blueberry and Blackberry Cordials

August 23, 2013 in Creating The 18th Century, Feast or Famine, Living history, Outlandish Recipes of the 18th century by M C

I have a confession to make.  I don’t like whisky.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, I don’t care for red wine or brandy either.

I’m going to get drummed out of the Outlander Fan Club.  I just know it.

1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleFortunately this year I’m buried under a bumper crop of berries.  The blueberries are nowhere near done producing and the blackberries are coming in by the bucketload, if I’m willing to walk over the hills and scratch myself silly to get them.  Naturally I picked three quarts yesterday, while listening to Voyager.  A lot of Voyager.  It takes me at least an hour to pick a quart of blackberries, tracking them down from patch to patch as I wander up and down the hill.

The resulting scratches, since I was foolish enough to do this in shorts, was a good excuse to test the efficacy of Claire’s herbal salve, made with calendula and oat straw, which are supposed to be both soothing and healing.  I’m happy to report it seems to be of some benefit, two days after scratching myself so badly my husband threatened to photograph the results most of the smaller scratches barely show, and the deep ones are well on their way to healing.  But i digress.

blackberry-cordial1I pick blackberries because they’re there.  It’s a tradition.  And they’ll go to waste if I don’t.  I don’t pick blackberries because I love to eat blackberries.  Wild blackberries, at least on my hill, are seedy.  But here they sit, a bucket full of them, at least three quarts of blackberries.

Maybe it was the heat, or looking for another berrying bucket, which unearthed an old bottle of brandy, or perhaps we can blame it on Voyager, and Bree’s dislike of whisky… but there is something you can do with blackberries and a bumper crop of blueberries that won’t quit.  The same thing that would have been done in a colonial household, you can make cordials.

Cordials were first used as medicines.  Fruit, herbs, and spices were steeped in alcohol, and then dispensed in modest doses as restoratives, to cure disease, or to help a patient sleep.  Likely they did work as a soporific.  In time cordials evolved from a medicinal to a draft to settle the stomach after a heavy meal, and so the cordial eventually made it into use as a lightly alcoholic beverage.

Colonial cordial recipes use everything readily available to the household: black peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, lemon, sugar, and, of course, fruit and brandy.  This recipe is appropriate to the period, but adjusted to what would have been available to the New England housewife during the Revolutionary War.

Blackberry or Blueberry Cordial

blackberry-cordial44 cups fruit, blackberries or blueberries
3 cups water
1 2 inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 inch of ginger root, cut finely
4 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp dried lemon peel or 1 tsp fresh lemon zest (yes, lemon was hugely popular in 18th century cooking)

Put the above into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Crush the berries with a spoon, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Pour through a sieve, if you press you’ll end up with more sediment in your cordial, so for a clear cordial, don’t press out your fruit.

Stir in 1 C sugar until it dissolves.  A colonial household would have had used a brown sugar if they couldn’t afford fine white.. I have fine white on hand, so I used that.

And add 1 1/2 cups of brandy. Preferably decent brandy.

Decant into bottles or jars, seal, and store in a cupboard for a couple of weeks to give your cordial a chance to settle nicely.

Serve as a lush alternative to whiskey to your Outlander friends who don’t care for whisky.  They’ll still be period appropriate, and you won’t have to drum them out of the Outlander fan club.

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