My paternal grandmother's father, Louis Bos, was the scion of a family that had made its money from the production of fruit cordials, aperitifs, and liqueurs. In their day Les Liqueurs d'Alexandre Bos were famous, winning prizes at major exhibitions, including the great Paris World Exhibition of 1889, their bottles with their rather cute but these days politically incorrect labels showing a schoolboy laden with bottles displayed in shops all over France and even beyond. Though neither the family fortune nor the family firm survived to our day, I can still remember Louis' widow, my great-grandmother Irma Bos, keeping up the tradition with the bottles of decadently delicious home-made aperitifs and liqueurs that she would bring out from her cupboard when we went to visit her at her apartment in Toulouse. They had lovely, weird, evocative names like 'Rinquinquin' and 'Ratafia' and 'Confiture de vieux garcon' (literally, 'old boy's jam'--or more precisely and sardonically, 'hardened bachelor's jam'). And they were heady concoctions, heavy with fruit and sugar and alcohol, that we children might be allowed a tiny taste of on a piece of sugar, and then once we'd passed a certain age, a tiny finger in a tiny glass. I still remember the rich colours of Irma's confiture de vieux garcon, all the summer berry fruit and cherries preserved in layers in a stained-glass-glowing dark red liquid which was a mixture of the fruit's juice and Armagnac or cognac. After a digestive glass of this marvellously bibulous 'jam', the adults would be rather like the stunned bumblebees who blundered around the roses in the summer garden. Rinquinquin(a sort of fortified peach wine) and ratafia(which is similar) were less potent, being based on white wine fortified with a little cognac or Armagnac and flavoured with various kinds of fruit(they are usually served cold, as aperitifs).
I don't know whether it was from Irma or not that my mother got her own excellent recipes for all these alcoholic fruit drinks but Maman still makes her own batches of home-made aperitifs and liqueurs at my parents' home in Gascony. Recently, she gave us some recipes for her own versions, and we were able to recreate the heady taste of these lovely old-fashioned drinks, and raise a glass to the memory of Alexandre Bos! Here's a recipe for my favourite, vin de peche, or rinquinquin.
Ingredients: 1 vanilla bean; 2 teaspoons cinammon powder; 80 or so peach leaves, 1 litre of good white, rose or red wine. Mix together, leave to macerate for 48 hrs. After that, filter the liquid, add 125 grams white sugar, plus half a glass of Armagnac, cognac, or rum. Stir well, then bottle. Keep for a few weeks, then serve very cold, as an aperitif.
Another excellent one of Maman's, which is actually her own invention, is a delicious coffee and orange liqueur:
Liqueur au cafe et a l'orange
In a bowl put a litre of spirits(vodka, cognac or whatever), 2 oranges, washed but whole, 40 coffee beans, 125 grams white sugar. Cover and let it steep for 40 days, then filter and bottle, discarding the oranges and coffee beans.
And what about old boy's jam?
Well, basically, it's soft red fruits--strawberries, raspberries, cherries, boysenberries, etc--added with sugar to cognac or Armagnac or eau de vie(vodka or grappa style spirit)--in layers as it becomes ripe. It was a work in progress that went on all summer, with more fruit added to the jar as it came in season, till in autumn at last it was shut and the juices and alcohol left to do their dastardly work for a few months.