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Sima? What? Why?


by Jerri

Vappu (May Day) is celebrated May 1st in Finland, usually for an entire week. It's said this Finnish holiday rivals that of Christmas and Easter! Banks and government offices (liquor stores too!) are all closed. Originally in the 1700s, the upper class would go horseback riding to enjoy the new greenness of spring “ since the 1800s, it morphed into university students celebrating academic achievements. Today it also includes workers, with everyone celebrating not only students' successes, but the current spring weather and the coming of the summer solstice. Celebrations actually start on April 30th, vappuaatto, or Vappu Eve. This is when the statue symbolic of Helsinki, The Daughter of the Baltic Sea (Havis Amanda), is cleaned and dressed with a huge ylioppilaslakki at 6:00 p.m.:

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You'll find everyone wearing these student caps. See here for pictures of the statue and celebration!

But what does this have to do with fermenting? My daughter has been a high school exchange student, living in Finland since August. And, one of the celebratory drinks for May Day is a ferment! Sima, pronounced see-muh is originally a basic mead (fermented honey water), but most current recipes today use white and brown sugar. I found it interesting that it calls for commercial bread yeast, but ok, I'm game. Let's try both in time for May Day!

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The basic recipe is water, sugar or honey, lemons, yeast, and raisins for the bottling up phase.

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The honey-based recipe seemed to be less work-intensive, calling for boiling the water, adding honey and lemon slices. The sugar-based recipe required brown and white sugar, and more intense lemon prep, having to cut away the bitter white parts, after zesting it. Can't wait to taste the difference!

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The zesting was kinda fun though

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I prefer to make my own brown sugareasy peasy in a food processer: 3 cups sugar + 1 T. blackstrap molasses.

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Prepping is so pretty!

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After boiling the water and adding the ingredients, you wait for it to reach lukewarm temperature (I searched the Internet and settled on 85ºish) and mix in  the active dry yeast.

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And now we wait! The honey recipe below on the left is only to be left for 8 hours to overnight, while the brown/white sugar recipe on the right is to be left for 24-48 hours.

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The next morning my honey brew didn't seem to do much, so I decided to leave it another 12 hours, and added a towel as a barrier between the jars and the cold granite countertop.

...and success! Beautiful bubbles signaling it's ready!

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Time to strain into a large jar with raisins:

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When the raisins float, or after about 8 hours, it's ready! Carefully release any built up pressure. I was very surprised how quickly my mason jar lid bulged from the gas, well before the 8 hours was up, and several raisins started floating just an hour or so after the jarring!

Strain out the raisins, and any yeast that has formed.

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Oops, watch that foam!

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The raisins were the bomb by the way plump and flavorful, with some tang!

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Now to refrigerate and wait until the morning to taste it, chilled.

The sugar-based mixture was ready to be bottled up a few hours later. Its bottling up process was different. It called for airtight bottles, 1 tsp white sugar and 5-6 raisins per bottle. Hint, if using a funnel, put the sugar and raisins in BEFORE you add the liquid. Just remember to give it a little swirl so the sugar can dissolve a bit. Intrigued by what this one will taste like after 2-5 days in the fridge (again, floating raisins indicate it's ready!).

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So the results?

After an overnight refrigeration period, the honey-based sima looked great, but I did taste a hint of the white pith, so definitely some bitterness there. My son nailed it when he said, It reminds me of that fruit you eat with a pointy spoon! “ grapefruit, yes! That's the best way to explain it!

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After 2 days of refrigeration, the raisins in the sugar-based sima were floating in the bottom half of the bottle. I'm sure it was supposed to float closer to the top, but I couldn't wait any longer. It was delicious! There was no bitter taste at all, in fact sweet and lemony. It did not taste super, super fermented, nor have any bubbly foam, so I plan to let one bottle do a second ferment at room temperature a few days, and let the other bottle stay in the fridge to see if the raisins will float higher.

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But I am feeling ready for May Day!

Remember that with any fermented drink, there is the potential that with age and continued warmth/fermenting, you'll get some alcohol content. You can decide if that's what you want or not when you celebrate May Day!

If you want to try this yourself, try searching for both honey sima and just sima you'll populate a ton of results, but they are basically the same.

Get fermented, Finnish style!