Midsummer. On the terrace sit 15 people, tired from dancing around the maypole, eating a traditional Swedish buffet (you know it as a smörgåsbord). There’s cheerful talk and much praising of the various dishes. Almost everyone has a glass of beer or cider at their elbow. Suddenly one of the hosts lifts a shot glass and suggests a song. Everyone bursts out in cheerful singing before raising their shot glasses and taking a hearty swig. Swig taken, the glass is lowered and eye contact is made with the other diners. Eating and chatting resumes.
Snaps is a fabulous thing. Basically vodka flavoured with sweet or bitter herbs, it is used for toasts and polite drinking games at traditional dinners – midsummer, crayfish parties, Christmas, that sort of thing – or for herring lunches all year round. It is an ice-cold sliver of adult-tasting high-alcohol goodness to aid your mood and digestion. Like any much-loved child, snaps has other names. Just like whisky, for example, it is the water of life: akvavit. It is also known as brännvin (though this is a more generic term).
There are several versions on the Swedish market, from Linie, a Norwegian snaps named for its journey across the equator while it matures, to OP Anderson, flavoured with cumin, aniseed and fennel, or Bäska Droppar, flavoured with wormwood. For the curious in Edinburgh there are three options for exploring the joy of snaps:
- Head to IKEA and see what they are offering.
- Go to one of the four Swedish pubs in Edinburgh and see what they can offer. Joseph Pears had O.P. behind the bar the last time I was there.
- Make your own.
Now is the perfect time to make snaps for Christmas. Below, you’ll find my Christmas snaps recipe. It is great with food, or as an ingredient in mulled wine or Christmas Martinis (Vermouth out, snaps in).
- Vodka, 50 cl
- 7 cardamom pods, insides only
- 3 sticks of cinnamon
- 4 long pieces of orange peel (use a potato peeler to get strips from top to bottom, with as much of the orange and as little of the pith as possible.)
- 7 cloves
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a bottle or jar.
- Pour in vodka.
- Mix or shake until the sugar is dissolved.
- Leave in dark cupboard for 6-8 weeks.
- Sieve to remove flavourings.
- Put back in dark cupboard for at least three months.
- Transfer to freezer.
- Serve in chilled shot glasses with a herring sandwich or on its own as an aperitif.