I had a bit of a hard time coming up with a title for this post because Swedish saft isn’t exactly a syrup, or a drink, or just juice. It is fruit and/or berry juice boiled with sugar to create a concentrate that becomes drinkable when water is added. In British English it is squash or cordial, but for the life of me I can’t come up with an American English term for it. If someone can enlighten me on an American English term besides concentrate, I’m all ears.
In order to be considered a saft the fruit/berry content needs to be at least 9%. Where I grew up no one was making saft that I was aware of and black currants were not commonplace like they are in Sweden. Here it seems to me that the majority of people have either a red, or black currant bush growing in their gardens, and quite often they have both. And when you have an overabundance of lingonberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, apples, blueberries, cherries, elderberries (you get the idea), saft is a fun and interesting alternative for using up your harvest. It can even be made with elderflowers or lilacs. I had some extra black currants kicking around and decided they were destined for saft.
The idea behind saft is that the sugar in the concentrate acts as a preservative which was key in pre-refrigeration days. Although making saft may not be as commonplace today as it was historically, it isn’t uncommon here and the Swedes have a nifty gadget called a saftsil (juice strainer) that is immensely helpful in the process. I tried to find a good source in English to purchase one online but wasn’t successful. Cheese cloth (muslin) set into a fine mesh strainer would certainly work if you can’t manage to get your hands on a saftsil. Mine is manufactured by Jonas of Sweden and I picked it up at a local grocery store for 99sek (about $15). For some reason I resisted purchasing one for three years but in the spirit of making saft like a Swede, I caved and am happy to report I’m pretty darn excited about this alien looking gadget. The ‘feet’ clamp onto whatever container you are using so the strainer can sit steadily above it. No doubt it will come in handy when it’s time to strain the crème de cassis come December. But for now, it’s in the saft making business. This was my first attempt at making a berry saft and based on the result, it will not be my last. The recipe I used was from Vår Kok Bok which is such a reliable Swedish recipe source. They have some excellent guidelines and a variety of combinations that I’m excited to translate and share.
Cooked Saft (adapted from Vår Kok Bok)
4 cups (1-1 1/4 liters)
Saft can be made from either fresh or frozen berries and/or rhubarb. Note that the amount of water used varies depending on the ingredients. Some recommended saft combinations are strawberries with rhubarb, gooseberries, or red currants; raspberries with rhubarb, blueberries, or red currants; blueberries with red currants; sweet or sour cherries with gooseberries, rhubarb, or red currants; and elderberries with red or black currants or sour apples. The Vår Kok Bok recipe calls for natrium benzoate as a preservative which was not used historically. I have an old Swedish cookbook from 1925 and one from 1952 and the ingredients are just berries, water, and sugar with proportions similar to below. So I prefer to skip the preservatives since the recipe calls for 3/4 the amount of sugar to juice and just to be on the safe side I keep it in the refrigerator or freezer.
8 cups (2 liters) ripe berries and/or rhubarb
1 1/2 – 2 cups (360 – 480ml) water, 2 – 2 1/2 cups (480 – 600ml) for white currants, 3 cups (720ml) for black currants
3 cups (675g) sugar per 4 cups (1 liter) of strained juice
1/4 teaspoon (1ml) natrium benzoate (optional)
1. Wash the berries and remove any stems. They do not need to be pitted or thawed if frozen. Rhubarb should be cut into chunks.
2. Measure the ingredients and select the appropriate amount of water. Juicy cherries can be cooked without water.
3. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot and add the berries and/or rhubarb. Simmer until they collapse, about 10 minutes, occasionally pushing against the sides of the pot or using a potato masher to crush and stir them during cooking.
4. Pour the cooked matter into a saftsil or fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth and let it self-strain into a large, clean container for 20-30 minutes.
5. This part is optional – to get a bit more taste out of the berries you can return them to the pot with a little more water (a cup or so) and cook them again for 3-4 minutes, then strain them into the first batch of juice.
6. Measure the strained juice and put it in a clean, large pot. Calculate the appropriate amount of sugar and add it in several additions to the juice, stirring well, as you bring the saft to a boil again.
7. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove the saft from the heat and let stand, undisturbed, 5 minutes. Remove any scum that has accumulated on the top before transferring the saft to a clean container for storage in the refrigerator or freezer.
8. To serve, dilute the saft with water to taste and serve chilled or over ice. I generally prefer about a 1:6 ratio. Enjoy!