In the old days they used to add different kinds of herbs to vodka. Back then it was often for healing purposes but also as a way, I think, to take out some of the sharp taste in pure spirits. Wormwood was used to cure loss of appetite, both Caraway seeds and Fennel was used to treat digestive problems and St John’s wort was supposed to heal angst and depression.
Whether these cures are true or not my husband and I enjoy flavoring pure vodka with different kinds of herbs and plants. Some of the herbs we find during the summer in the woods (St John’s wort and Bog Myrtle) or in our own garden (black currant, wormwood and coriander). My husband has even engaged one of our friends, who has a backyard garden in Brooklyn, to grow wormwood (for Swedish Bäsk) and sweetgrass (to make Polish Zubrówka).
To make aquavit you don’t really have to go to the woods, you just need three simple spices that you may already have in your pantry: (one table spoon) coriander seeds, (one table spoon) fennel seeds and (one and half tablespoon) whole caraway seeds. Crush them roughly with a mortar and pestle and soak them in 200 ml pure vodka for a day or so. Let it soak longer for a stronger essence or less if you want a lighter taste. Strain and dilute with more vodka to the taste that you like. I recommend using the lightest pure vodka that you can find. For example, outside of Sweden I suggest Swedka or triple-distilled Smirnoff and in Sweden I recommend Renat.
Enjoy Snaps with different kinds of cured herrings, crayfish (Swedish style), caviar and oysters.
This recipe was first published on Honest Cooking, 28 April 2011.
Every Autumn about this time my twin sister Anna goes out to pick rose hips for her yearly Rose Hip Sherry. This is an exceptionally delightful treat for being a homemade spirit. My sister has done this for a while, so her wine cabinet has become full of different vintages of Rose Hip Sherry. Sometimes I have had the honor to be part of her sherry tastings, which she has after an excellent dinner. It really is a fantastic finish to a good meal and I must say the sherry just gets better as it ages.
The sherry also works in cooking and Anna says that a dash of Rose Hip Sherry in a Chanterelle sauce is absolutely heavenly! Sound fantastic to me!
2 liter (8 ½ cups) rose hips (the long narrow fruits, avoid the rounder ones)
1 ½ kg (3 1/3 lb) sugar
3 liter (12 2/3 cups) water
25 gr (7/8 oz) wine maker’s yeast (or fresh yeast and it might even work w/ instant yeast)
Roughly trim the rose hips but don’t rinse them with water as the surface contains natural yeast that are useful in the process. Make a sugar syrup by heating up the sugar and the water. When the sugar has dissolved let it cool. Use some of the liquid to dissolve the yeast. Let the yeast start (there will be bubbles on the surface) before mixing with the rest of the sugar liquid and the rose hips in a bucket or a glass carboy. Cover the jar and let the wine sit still for three months. At this time the liquid should look clear and the rose hips have fallen to the bottom of the jar. Tap the sherry into dark bottles (for example on 33 cl (12 fl oz) beer bottles). To avoid the sediment at the bottom Anna recommends to spoon up the sherry instead of pouring (can be hard with a carboy). Seal with a suitable cork or cap. Let the sherry stand for at least one more month before drinking. If your are patient enough to store it, or at least with some of it, my sister thinks it’s best to drink after 5 years.
Well I’m preparing for this year Midsummer celebration here in Sweden by spicing vodka (snaps). I have made Akvavit and Black Currant which I know goes very well with the “matjes” (traditional midsummer herring). For my guests I want to offer a broad variety of “snaps”, so these recipes just give you a small amount of each. If you need more just double or triple the recipe.
My sister Anna’s Akvavit
one tablespoon caraway seeds
one tablespoon coriander seeds
one tablespoon fennel seeds
100 ml (½ cup) unflavored vodka*
Smash the seeds roughly in a mortar and pestle. Soak the seeds in a jar with vodka for 6-8 hours (if you keep it longer you will get a stronger essence). Drain and dilute with at least twice the amount of vodka.
This flavor works all year around, for instance its fantastic with Swedish Crayfish.
Black Currant Snaps
about 16 young leaves from a blackcurrant bush
200 ml (almost a cup) unflavored vodka
Rinse the leaves if necessary and soak them in a jar with vodka for 6-8 hours (don’t keep the leaves much longer as the vodka will taste too grassy). Drain and dilute to your taste).
This “snaps” is really refreshing and works perfectly for an early summer feast.
*You can use almost any unflavored vodka but I use Absolut, Svedka or triple-distilled Smirnoff.
Our friend Russel is growing Sweet Grass (or bison grass) in his garden. Sweet grass is the main flavoring in M:s and my favorite vodka, Zubrowka. Zubrowka is based on rye distilled vodka and the grass gives it a smooth herby taste with a touch of bitterness. The smell is grassy and has a barely noticeable vanilla accent.
Sweet grass has been used for ages by the Native Indians for ceremonies and healing rituals. In many places it’s still grown for basketry. In the 70-ies the US discovered that Sweet grass contains a small amount of coumarin and decided to ban the import of Zubrowka. Coumarin has the ability to thin your blood, the same effect Aspirin has. Well whenever I will need to prevent my blood from clotting, I will prefer a Zubrowka to an aspirin. I also think a cold Zubrowka goes better with herring. Today you can find artificially flavored “Zubrowka” in the US but it’s very distant from the real thing.
In some parts of the world, Sweet grass is growing wild but you can also find Sweet grass clogs on the Internet. Russel planted his clogs last spring and was able to harvest his first straws in September the same year. Russel grew up on a farm so we were quite certain the result would be lovely. As the Sweet grass is a perennial, Russel will soon be able to harvest it again. This time we think the result will be even better as the straws will be fresh and delicate!
for the essence you will need
1/3 liter rye vodka (however we used the wheat grain vodka, Svedka)
8 fresh blades of sweet grass cut into one inch lengths
Let the blades soak in a the vodka in a sealed glass jar for seven days. Any longer and this ‘essence’ tastes too bitter. Take the blades out, filter the essence through a coffee filter and mix approximately two parts vodka with one part essence.
If you mix Zubrowka with apple juice topped with a slice of lime you will have the cocktail that we call a boy scout. In Poland they call the cocktail tatanka or szarlotka (apple pastry).
There is off course other ways to make your own Zubrowka.
I have never in my life done my own Glögg until now. Glögg is a warm wine drink that is very traditional during Christmas time in Sweden. In fact it’s a very old tradition and I have heard that it was a way to cover up a bad wine!
1 cup rum,or vodka or 50/50
1 bottle of a full bodied red wine (ex. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon)
75 ml (0.3 cups) sucanat (or sugar cubes)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 peels of an orange
5 whole cardamoms
1 small piece of ginger, chopped
Heat up the wine. It’s important to not let the wine boil! Put all the spices in the warm wine, turn the heat off and let it rest covered for at least 4 hours.
Seive the spices from the wine. Heat up the wine together with the figs to 60º C. In the meantime prepare a stainless steel net (for example a steel strainer) with sucanat or the sugar cubes. When the wine has reach the right temperature, place the steel net over the saucepan. Pour the rum over the sugar and light the alcohol steam below (flambé). Let the burned sugar drip into the wine mixture. Take the saucepan from the heat. Cover with a lid to stop the flames.
Serve the glögg warm with raisins, blanched almonds and the warm figs. Great after a walk in the snow!
(There are many ways to do your own glögg and what you choose to make it out of. I got inspired by Bengt Frithiofssons recipe, “Glödgande Glögg”. Frithiofssons talk about wine on the Swedish TV Channel TV4.