Liquor Project of the Day

This came from the current issue of Saveur magazine, and intrigued me — I’d never thought of the flavors of oranges and coffee going together, and in combination with rum it made me go “Hmm.” It also involves arcane ritual, which I always find appealing.

The story behind the concoction goes like this:

In 1884 the British missionary Rev. G. A. Shaw wrote that a traveler arriving alte in a village in Madagascar “will be distressed and horrified to find that the demon of the rum barrel has been [there] before him.” The observation was likely sour grapes on Shaw’s part, since his well-documented habit of taking over the largest hut in town, even if it meant displacing its owners, surely guaranteed that no nightcap was ever placed before him. That was his loss, because, in the African island nation of Madagascar, they know what to do with rum: namely, customize it with local ingredients, from pineapples and cinnamon to vanilla beans and litchis.

Now, here’s how you go about making one. Where does the number and ritual come from? No idea (although it’s undoubtedly left over from the French influence in Madagascar. This appears to be a Malagasy adaptation of a homemade liqueur in France called “Quarante Quatre” (44), which is sometimes made with cloves.

However, I’m briefly reminded of one of the funniest episodes ever of “Malcolm in the Middle,” one of my favorite comedy programs ever. Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) is attempting to bond with her horridly unpleasant mother (Cloris Leachman), joining her and all the other old ladies of the Old Country in making a gigantic traditional pastry for some saint’s feast day back home. The thing’s enormous, and has dozens of layers, each one representing some battle or whatever. Apparently on layer 38 Lois got the exact number of raisins wrong, and her mother loudly demanded that the start the entire pastry over again. Lois protested; “What difference does it make if there are 126 raisins or 127? It’s going to taste exactly the same!” Her mother shrieked, “IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO TASTE GOOD, IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFICULT TO MAKE!!”

Well, I digress a bit, but this made me think of that scene, although I suspect that this cordial will not only be a bit of a pain to make, but will also taste great.

The 44 Cordial

1 liter white rum (I’d use Cruzan or 10 Cane).
1 large navel orange.
44 coffee beans.
44 teaspoons of sugar (a little less than 1 scant cup).

Using a sharp paring knife make 44 slits all over the orange. Stuff a coffee bean into each slit. In a large widemouthed jar, add the 44 teaspoons of sugar and the rum; stir to dissolve. Add the orange and seal the jar. Keep it in a cool, dark place, agitating it occasionally, for 44 days. Then remove the orange and discard; strain the liqueur through cheesecloth and bottle. Store in the freezer until ready to drink.

According to Saveur, “the Malagasy version is best sipped neat or over ice, preceded by a toast to the Reverend Shaw.”