Frugal Friday: Meadowsweet juice
It has been a while since we did one of these frugal Friday posts. Originally, I had planned on posting the recipe for meadowsweet juice a little closer to summer, but seeing as I had already posted spruce shoot syrup way ahead of time and I got a request in for it (thanks!), why not put it out there early for people to prepare?
Now, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a perennial herb in the rose family. It is native to Europe and Asia, but has been naturalised some places in the US. It is an aromatic herb and contains the same active ingredients used to make aspirin, among other things.
In Norway, meadowsweet is called “mjødurt”, which directly translates into “mead herb”. As the name implies, it has been used for millennia to flavour mead. It is also weakly antibacterial, and could be used to clean throughs and tools before use. It likes sunny spots, and in our area they are easiest to find in places where humans tread often or have changed things, such as adding wide paths for hiking and thus providing more sun to the forest floor, or alongside fields and acres. Where there’s one, there’s usually many.
When making juice, we use the flowers of the plant. They start their blossoming at the bottom of the flower cluster and gradually work their way up, so there will always be a part of the crown that’s not in bloom or a bottom that is past flowering. When you see the buds pop up everywhere, that’s when you know it is time to go for regular walks in your area to make sure you get the flowers while as many of the small flowers in the cluster is blooming as possible.
Where we live, that’s July-August. It can easily be June-July or even earlier in more southern areas.
If you want some of the fragrance in something other than juice, you can pick the leaves before the flower blooms, dry them and add them to your tea. It is important to pick the leaves of pretty much any plant before it flowers. After flowering, the plant has given most all its energy to reproduction, and will have very little flavour left.
Makes about 4 litres of juice:
100 florets (approx 600g)
3 kg sugar
70 g citric acid (preservative)
2 lemons, sliced (recommend organic as we’re using peel and everything)
3 litres of cold water
Now, there are several ways to make this. Most of the recipes I’ve found will speak about boiling up your water, dissolving your sugar and your citric acid, before you pour that over your flowers and lemons in a bowl, cover it completely (use something to keep the flowers underwater) and leave it to cool down and extract for 2-5 days before bottling up.
If you’re like me and a lot of my friends, that sounds like an awful long time for bacteria to party in my sugar water, even meadowsweet’s mildly antibacterial properties would be no match against that.
So what we do instead, is to boil up water, set the pot aside and add your meadowsweet flowers and slices of lemon. Pop on the lid and leave it to cool down completely (it’s fine to leave it overnight). Knowing a thing or two about extracting chemicals, I can tell you that it is a negative exponential curve. The majority of the action happens in the beginning, so what you loose by not letting bacteria have a party for 5 days is minimal.
When your mixture is starting to get cold, it is about time to start sterilising your bottles. We use traditional clip top bottles like these and have never had a problem.
What you need to do is to pop a small pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Pull off all the metallic clip tops from your glass bottles and pop them in the boiling water. After a hot water and soap rinse, you can pop your clean glass bottles into the oven for sterilisation at 110C or 230F (your rubber seals and often plastic tops cannot take the heat of the oven, so they are sterilised in boiling water separately).
Some people swear by boiling everything in a massive pot of water. I’ve been a student and moved around a lot, so I’ve never had a massive pot to sterilise bottles in, which is why I do it this way. I have never had a problem with a bottle going bad so far. The only thing you should be aware of is that glass is sensitive to sudden temperature changes, so you should pop them in a cold oven and let the bottles heat up alongside the oven.
Once completely cooled down, you strain all your flowers and your lemon out and give your liquid a new boil with sugar and citric acid. Once everything is boiling and dissolved, you pull your bottles out of the oven and as quickly as you can funnel it all into your warm bottles. Dry off any juice that may land on the top of the bottle.
Now for the fidgety and hot part. As quickly as you can, you need to fish out (clean hands) your bottle tops from the boiling water and reattach them to your bottles. It can sometimes be difficult to get them on, especially as the bottles are boiling hot, so I suggest trying a couple times with cold bottles and oven mittens or towels to get a feel for it.
Once all the bottles are sealed up, you get to go enjoy a cup of tea! You’re all done! All that is left is for the bottles to cool down, pop a label on them and into the pantry for year-round enjoyment. Dilute to your own preference with cold water and ice cubes and store in the fridge once opened (they never last long in our house).
What’s the big deal?
Most of us are used to berry and fruit juices and consume them in great delight, so what is the difference with this one?
As someone who doesn’t really drink soda or store bought sugary drinks, meadowsweet juice is very refreshing. It is not as sweet as normal juices, but comes with a slightly bitter tang and a complexity of flavour that lends itself really well to both drinking on a hot summer day with loads of ice cubes, or in the depth of winter to alleviate a slightly sore throat.
Mr. E. and I both love this stuff. I have a mind to make at least twice as much this season, as my measly 4 litres was not enough to bring us through the winter. As I am writing this, I think there is one bottle still nestled away in a hidden spot in the pantry, but only because we have been consciously saving it for months now. Plus, you can’t buy it in a shop, which makes it precious to me on a whole other level.
Do you have unique recipes using local ingredients that you just can’t buy?
We’d love to hear it! We’re all about heirloom plants, diversity and interesting foods, so please leave a comment!