Pete Wells' New York Times article about the appeal of Ratafias continues to occupy my mind, some two months after it appeared in the New York Times. After my initial attempt to make a nectarine version of this homemade beverage—made from wine, vodka, vanilla bean and fresh fruit or vegetables—I went on to experiment with mangoes and cucumbers.
The mango brew was fine. The mangoes could have been riper (you really need ripe fruit for ratafias), and my experiment to use less vanilla bean didn't really succeed in making the potion take less strongly of vanilla. But the cucumber ratafia was a marked improvement. I opted for cucumbers because of something I read in Wells article. He mentioned a restauranteur from the Southwest who used a cucumber ratafia as part of a special recipe for a Pimm's Cup. Now, they didn't mention the details of the recipe, but I love me a Pimm's Cup, so I decided I'd act first and figure out the drink later.
The cucumber ratafia was more subtle in flavor than the fruit ratafias; somehow, the vegetable was less affected by the vanilla than the fruit was.
I didn't know how to integrate the ratafia into a regular Pimm's Cup, so I had do some guesswork. The recipe I typically use calls for 1.5 oz. of Pimm's and 4 oz. of ginger ale, with a cucumber slice for a garnish. Nice and simple. I figured the Pimm's ratio should remain the same—it is a Pimm's Cup after all and the liquor shouldn't be shunted aside. I decided to lessen the ginger ale dossage by 1 oz. and fill in the cavity with 1 oz. of ratafia.
Damned if my first guess didn't do the trick. The drink was beautiful. The ratafia added a new layer of complexity to the drink, without complicating things too much. I'll probably experiment with ratios a bit more, but my feeling is that this is the right mix.
For anyone who's interested, I made the ratafia this way:
1 bottle dry white wine
1/4 cup vodka
1 cup chopped cucumber (peeled)
1/4 vanilla bean
Put in a jar, cover and store in fridge for 3-4 weeks.