Yay! It’s May and it’s time to make some mead! This beautiful fermented nectar – sima (pronounced for English speakers like see-mah) – is traditional to the Finnish 1st of May bacchanals.
One of the BIG FOUR Finnish celebrations in the calendar year, the 1st of May celebration – Vappu (pronounced kinda as vah-poo) – celebrates the spring, Saint Walburg (along the lines of Walburgsnacht) and whathaveyou. Labour movements as well as university students have all alike appropriated this beautiful spring party day.
In Finland, sima – this often home-made, low-alcohol lemon mead – is one of the most prolific signs of Vappu. It is an important part of my favourite Vappu tradition: the big, even lavish picnics, especially popular in Helsinki.
Other typical things related to Vappu are: carnival-style festivities, all imaginable varieties of alcohol and drinking them aplenty.
While Vappu/Walburgsnacht is of religious origin – for centuries if not millenias have pagan prehistoric Finns been chucking down pints of sima and dancing the night away in the gleaming light of spring bonfires.
While a strong and potent alcoholic beverage in the past, sima of today is kind of a party drink for the whole family due to its low alcohol content. This is my mother’s recipe, that we have used for years and tweaked it a bit to our taste.
Here, I’m going to tell you how to make it – it’s super easy and so tasty!
- 4l water
- Glass bottles for 4l (I use 1 liter milk bottles, but really, it doesn’t matter too much)
- 250g Cane sugar or equivalent
- 250g Caster sugar
- 1-2 Lemons, preferably organic
- Fresh yeast, a pea size amount
- A few raisins
- 1-2 Oranges (optional)
- Ginger (optional)
- Treacle or other dark syrup (optional)
1. Wash lemons (and oranges, if you are using any) well. Peel the zest in thin slices. Carefully take off the entire white layer between the zest and the fruit.
2. Cut the lemons and oranges into thin slices.
3. Boil the water. Add the sugars and syrup/treacle, if you are using any. Mix in well.
4. Add lemon and orange slices and zest to hot water.
5. Let it cool down. This takes longer than expected – so don’t start doing this too late in the evening!
6. When the liquid is lukewarm, take a small amount of it in a glass or a small bowl and mix the yeast in. Pour it back into the pot and mix. Cover the pot with a lid and let ferment in room temperature for 12-24h. In a few hours already, the pot will be sizzling and the yeast and the fermentation will be working their magic.
7. Strain it.
8. Bottle it! Preferably in glass bottles: wash the bottles carefully, put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of sugar on the bottom along with a few raisins and fill up. Let them ferment in room temperature for a day or two. When the raisins have risen to the top, your sima is ready to be put in the fridge. If the sima stays too long in the room temperature, the fermentation uses up all the sugar and sima will not be as tasty.
The optional ingredients all fine tune the flavour: oranges add a softness and sweetness that pure lemon won’t have. Ginger adds a bit of a kick and complements the fruits wonderfully. The kind of sugars you like alter the taste but also the colour – the darker the sugar, the darker the sima. All syrups, molasses and honeys can also be used and provide a different tasting sweetness to the drink.
Sima actually used to be drunk all year round and I find it quite sad, that this beautiful beverage is now only consumed once a year. I’m actually interested in bringing it back – trying different flavours with seasonal fruits and keeping the sima tradition going on. One variety I’m interested in testing rather soon is “sima of Louhisaari”, which is flavoured with black currant leaves – and was especially favoured by our Marshall Mannerheim.
Let me know if you want to know more about my adventures in the world of sima!