At the end of June or the beginning of July is when St John’s wort starts to bloom. In Sweden, the plant is both common as a perennial in gardens and wild in the woods. I find them every year next to my house on the edge of our gravel road. I pick the flower or rather the buds to soak in vodka. In Sweden we call the spirit Hirkum Pirkum which comes from the Latin name of the plant, Hypericum perforatum.
As I’ve said before, St John’s wort is supposed to heal angst and depression. In the old days it was used to drive spirits away. You just needed to hang some twigs of the herb over an image of the ghost or even the devil and that specific spirit would leave you alone.
For the snaps essence: Pick about two tablespoons of St John’s wort buds (skip the flowers that are in full bloom). Rinse and clean them if neccessary. Put the flowers in a jar or a bottle. Cover with 200 ml vodka and soak for about 8 hours. Strain and add some more vodka if you like (I added about 200 ml). The result is a pink and pretty delicious snaps! (You can soak it longer if you want a sharper taste).
This recipe was first published in Honest Cooking, 4 July 2011.
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.