Midsummer: Elderflower Punch
Every good party has at least two beverage options for guests. I like to have one alcoholic, and one non-alcoholic. When I was planning my Scandinavian Midsummer Porch Party, I knew I wanted something light and refreshing for the non-alcoholic option.
Scandinavians aren't really known for this, but saft is a non-alcoholic fruit juice concentrate that often finds its way onto Scandinavian tables. Saft means "juice" and is a sugar-sweetened concentrate meant to be mixed with water. In a lot of households, water and the concentrate are placed on the table separately, and guests mix their own beverages to taste.
Saft isn't quite a syrup. Legally, it must contain at least 9% fruit juice. But it's certainly not unsweetened. Historically, the sugar likely acted as a preservative, allowing people to have fruity drinks year-round and preserve some of the summer abundance for the lean times in winter. Access to vitamin C may have also played a role in the creation of saft. Analogs in the United States might be shrub (although that is often made with vinegar) and British cordial (although that is sometimes fortified by alcohol).
If you've even been to IKEA and had the lingonberry "juice" at the café, you've had saft. Common flavors include strawberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, lingonberry, and elderflower. ElderFLOWER? Yep! Elderflower! Elder plants are common in Europe and have been revered in many ancient cultures for their magical and protective powers. You may have heard that elderberry syrup can be use as an immune booster. But elderflowers were also eaten in early summer. Fried as fritters, made into saft and cordials, steeped in alcohol, and eaten with fish, their strong floral scent has an affinity for honey, lemon, and gooseberries.
Although elders grow with abundance in Europe, they're a bit more scarce here in the United States. So I did not make my own elderflower syrup, but if you've got access and care to take a stab, here's a recipe to try.
If you also live in an area that's short on elder bushes and trees, you can purchase syrups online or from your local IKEA or Scandinavian shop. I got Monin brand syrup, which was good (I like all their syrups), but not as good as the "real" Swedish saft, which is hard to find online. Hafi brand elderflower drink concentrate is what to Google, and Hafi is a Swedish preserves brand that has been around since the 1930s. You can find it in some specialty foods stores, too.
This elderflower punch is delicious, but it has a unique flavor. Some of my party-goers thought it tasted like Pez! I think it's a nice combination and refreshing, but see for yourself.
plain seltzer or club soda
In each glass, add about an inch of syrup, then fill halfway with plain seltzer, top off with ginger ale, and give it a good stir to combine the syrup. You can also do it with all plain seltzer, but then it's elderflower soda!
If you're making it for a crowd, the ratio is about a quarter cup of syrup to one cup each seltzer and ginger ale.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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