Swiss Food: Raisinée: The History and the Recipe
The Vaudois word raisinée refers to a syrup made of the must of apples and pears. It was originally cooked in grape juice, thus the name — raisin means grape in French. Often called vin cuit, or “cooked wine”, it is in the form of a dark brown, viscous liquid. In still other parts of Switzerland, another concoction similar in consistency to jam and using the same ingredients is called cougnarde and probably dates back to at least the Middle Ages. Raisinée was used as a sweetener in many regions in Europe, and the tradition has lingered in Switzerland, especially in the cantons of Vaud, Fribourg and Neuchâtel. Today, it is mainly used for cakes and pies, and is not fermented, so it not technically a wine.
In the 17th century, raisinée meant a thick fruit jam, generally made of apples and pears, and slow-cooked in concentrated grape juice. According to the Encyclopédie d’Yverdon, published in the 1770s, raisinée was made from the must of very ripe green grapes cooked until reduced by two thirds, then kept in barrels. Drinking it was said to give energy to people of a frail nature.
Raisinée is no longer drunk as a cooked or fortified wine, although in the 18th century one finds recipes for fruit must syrup made from apples and pears (dropping the use of grape juice) and used to replace sugar. Like today, the apple and pear juice was cooked until thick, until a drop on a plate didn’t run anymore. During periods of scarcity and hardship — for example, during and after World War II when sugar was low or not available — it was and still is used as a sweetener.
Cantons like Fribourg and the Vaud have kept up the tradition more than elsewhere, partially because they have a history of orchards. Recipes had been maintained and they were brought back to life in the 1980s.
Traditions similar to this were to be found in Mesopotamia and Ancient Rome.
Use apples and pears not suitable for eating. The fruit shouldn’t be overly ripe. You should be able to crush it and press it, but it mustn’t turn into a purée. The juice is filtered to get rid of hard bits. It is then decanted overnight (no more).
Unlike industrial fruit concentrates, the juice is not clarified. It is simply brought to a boil in a large copper kettle over a wood fire. Try to use up any bits of wood not suitable for a regular fire. A coil-type steam burner can be used to prevent risk of overheating, especially when making large quantities.