When the icy winds of winter rattle my windows, I get busy cooking. Sometimes the food is for me, but more often than not it is for friends and acquaintances. I find that showing up to people’s homes with edible gifts is an instantaneous icebreaker, and the more unusual, the better.
Just last month I brought a Filipino Jell-O and tapioca drink to a friend’s birthday party. Slurping those wiggly, jiggly bits through straws had complete strangers laughing and chattering together. Thanks to my Global Table Adventure, I have a full arsenal of tricks, including mason jars full of preserved Moldovan peppers, spicy Jamaican jerk seasoning, homemade bread (still steaming inside a blanketed basket), or even Lithuanian honey spirits.
The biggest hit, by far, has been the Lithuanian honey spirits, also known as krupnikas. Hailing from the northern reaches of Europe, this is the kind of drink that warms you when the gray, bitter cold threatens to seep right past your toes and into your heart. They say Lithuania has the largest collection of amber in the world – known as the gold of the Baltics – but krupnikas is a far more enticing “gold.” This boozy drink tastes like heaven on fire – a sweet, fragrant blend that is almost too complex to describe.
There’s a bright dose of honey, but there’s also orange peel, an entire vanilla bean, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice and so much more.
The drink takes just two weeks to smooth out enough for sipping, but gets even better over time. Six months to a year is said to be ideal. Those who like to bake will enjoy adding krupnikas to their holiday confections instead of vanilla extract. The flavor is intense – many who have tasted it say it tastes exactly like Christmas. I find the best way to enjoy it isn’t to actually drink it, but let the spirits wet my lips for the spiced honey flavor. I can sit this way late into the night, nursing just an ounce, laughing with friends.
Makes a little over 2 quarts
8 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
10 cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 nutmeg seed, cracked
5 allspice berries
1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. fennel seed
3 inch piece of ginger root, cut into 4 pieces
2 inch piece turmeric, cut into 4 pieces
Peel of 1 orange
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 1/2 lbs. honey
1 quart water
750 ml Everclear (190 proof grain alcohol)
*All spices should be cracked lightly if possible to maximize flavor.
Bring the honey and water to a simmer. Skim off any foam that surfaces, then add in everything but the Everclear. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the Everclear to the still-hot mixture, stir to combine and then strain the mixture. (Tip: use the spices again to flavor a vanilla ice cream base, chocolate, flan, etc.) Pour the liquid into sterile bottles (run them through the dishwasher before using) and set aside for two weeks (or up to a year). The spirits will settle and transform from cloudy to end clear. Lithuanians say the clearer the final result, the better, although some enjoy stirring up the goods that settle on the bottom.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.