Outside of our house there’s a Rowan-tree whose beautiful red-orange berries each year tells us that summer is transcending into fall. Today’s kitchen experiment was making juice for a non-alcoholic rowan-berry drink from an old hand written recipe on a note I found in my grandmother’s kitchen files. Her generation tried to use as much as possible of what could be picked out in nature for free and making juice and jam from rowan-berries was common in Sweden. I very rarely see it on menus or in peoples pantries today but I took interest in traditional cooking and in a lifestyle where you take care of as much of nature’s gifts as you can instead of buying stuff so of course I wanted to try the rowan-berry recipe when I have an abundance of these berries right outside of my house.
“Too tart, the fox said about the rowan-berries” is a swedish saying you use when someone puts down something or someone he or she can’t get. In a way the fox was right. Rowan-berries are both tart and bitter – especially the wild growing ones while the berries from cultivated rowan-trees are somewhat sweeter. Taken straight from the tree they are more or less unedible, but if you cook them they are pretty pleasant tasting and have also been used in traditional medicine.
The rowan-trees actually belongs to the rose family and grow wild in most of Europe. They were introduced as ornamental trees in North America where they are also known as Mountain Ash-trees and today they are naturalized and grow wild from Washington to Alaska.
The Rowan-trees also have their place in mythology and litterature. For example in the Icelandic Snorri’s Edda from the 13th century Snorri Sturlason tells the story about how Thor, the god of thunder (yes, there was a god of thunder before Gene Simmons), saves himself from drowning in a river created by the angered giantess Gjálp by holding on to the branch of a rowan-tree. But now I’ll cut to the chase: the recipe for the drink made from rowan-berry juice. You’ll need:
• 2 lbs. 3 oz (1 kg) of cleaned, rinsed rowan-berries.
• 2 lbs. 3 oz (1 kg) tart apples
• 0.33 gallons (1,25 liter) of water
• white sugar according to instructions (see below)
• benzoate according to instructions on benzoate package
First, put the rinsed rowan-berries in the freezer for an hour. This is because the berries has a somewhat bitter taste that becomes more pleasant if you do this first for a better result.
Then put the rowan-berries and the apples, cut into pieces, in a large pot. Add the water, bring to boil and let it simmer until the berries and apples are soft and mushy. Remove from heat and pour into a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (saftsil) and let it self-strain into a large, clean bowl for 30 minutes.
Measure the juice before pouring it back in the pot. Bring to boil. Remove from heat and add 2 rounded cups (5 dl) of sugar for every 0.25 gallons (1 liter) of juice. Stir and bring to boil again. Remove from heat and remove all of the white foam on the surface. Add benzoat for preserving according to instructions on benzoate package (i Sverige: ett rågat krm bensoat för varje liter saft). Pour in clean bottles.
For serving: pour juice in a glass, then add water according to taste and serve chilled. This drink is a perfect non-alcoholic beverage for grown-ups. Tart, sweet, a little bitter and almost spicy at the same time. Skål!