Thursday, December 20, 2018

Baltic Christmas Day 20 - Tāle's Sunshine Coast Black Balsam

This week on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we read about a black currant liqueur and Lithuanian krupnikas, but the series would be neglectful in not mentioning the Latvian drink, melnais balzāms. Joining us today is Tāle, to tell us more about this drink that has become well known even outside of Latvia…

As an Australian Latvian-Estonian (1st/2nd generation), I have always been involved in the Australian Baltic Community. My family & parents (Dad is Estonian & Mum Latvian) were heavily involved in the Brisbane Baltic Community as I was growing up. As it is with little ones, we always went with them and as such you cannot help but soak up the culture and traditions. By choice I started playing the kokle at 11 (1988) in the Brisbane group ‘Zigrīda,’ and started folk dancing the same year with ‘Senatne’. My oldest & bestest friends are Baltic, as that is who I grew up with. My first trip back to the Baltic States to visit family was in 1993, just after they gained their independence. Our family was fortunate enough to celebrate a true Jāņi with our Latvian family - an experience I will never forget!

My Vecmāmiņa & Vanaema were both wonderful cooks and taught my Mum, Dad, sisters and I how to cook all the traditional Latvian & Estonian dishes. These were usually at or before big family event days to make for celebrations. Although they both rarely wrote down their recipes, I am forever thankful we ‘pestered’ them to verbally tell us what they used and then wrote them down - as they truly are a family legacy to be passed down to future generations. Nowadays my Mum, sisters and I each have our ‘specialities’ and that in itself lends to expertise. These recipes from my Vecmāmiņa and Vanaema were the start of my own Baltic Recipe Book I use to this day.

As we got older, as you do in life, we all drifted into new adventures, had our own families and being close to our Latvian/Estonian Community hall was just not as feasible anymore. But I have missed the Latvian/Estonian community and have sought out ways to keep my sense of ‘Baltic Spirit’. Throughout the years I have tried to keep all the Latvian/Estonian traditions alive by teaching my children how to cook the traditional dishes, kept up my kokle playing, I have added to my own cooking skills and have also branched out into making modern Baltic pottery - Oak & Sea Ceramics. My Mum & I have taught my children about the annual celebration days and also some of the history (including the old gods). It is important to teach heritage and traditions to the next generation. I very much hope my kids will pass what they remember on to their children.

Over the years I have added to my Baltic Recipe Book with my own recipes. My version of the Riga Black Balsam (Latvian: Rīgas Melnais balzāms) started about 5 years ago from an obvious shortage of the drink in my household - and no one we knew going over to Latvia any time soon to bring some back! I spent some time researching on the internet, found some articles, and came up with credible and accessible ingredient list. So, I started with that.

The original Riga Black Balsam recipe was made by a pharmacist in the 18th century, and was most famously used for Queen Catherine the Great upon a visit to Riga, Latvia where she became ill. The original recipe was lost in WW2. After the war the recipe was carefully restored by a joint effort of former employees, and since then the recipe has remained unchanged. The recipe in itself is incredibly full of healing ingredients for colds and flu.

After many annual batches, I have fine-tuned my recipe so it tastes almost as good as the real thing – the last batch sold out at the recent Brisbane Latvian Christmas Markets! So here is my recipe that I would like to share:

Tāle’s Sunshine Coast Black Balsam

1. Fill a glass jar to 2/3 full with a combination of dry and fresh ingredients from this list*:
- Elderberries (a must for colour and taste)
- Cloves
- Lavender
- Nutmeg
- Star Anise
- Cinnamon
- Orange & Lemon rind (no pith as it will make it bitter)
- Vanilla Bean
- Rosemary
- Black Peppercorns
- Raspberries
- Cranberries
- Mint
- Ginger
- Lemon Myrtle (Aussie Touch!)
- Valerian
- St. John’s Wort
2. Add a 1/2 + 1/2 combination of 40% proof unflavoured vodka and brandy to completely cover ingredients
3. Leave to macerate for 8-12 weeks, shake daily
4. When ready, strain though a chux (muslin cloth) and sieve
5. If you like, add honey to taste & whisk through
6. Bottle in sterilised jars and keep for 12 months

* As with any recipe, you can tweak it to favour any flavour you would like, for example by adding cherries to make Cherry balzāms etc...

I hope you have enjoyed my article, Merry Christmas to my wider Baltic Community and wishing everyone a Happy & Safe New Year!

Cheers, Tāle Kai Liiv 😊

Thank you Tāle, for joining us on the series with your recipe! We’ve tried making krupnikas and the black currant liqueur, I think the next logical step is balzāms! Now about the lemon myrtle, we’ve got wax myrtle over here in our neck of the woods, why do I think I will have to find a substitute...?

Tāle posts photos and recipes of her Baltic cooking to @tkl1977 on Instagram. Her pottery, Oak & Sea Ceramics, can be found here.

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year; let's celebrate the return of the sun on this winter solstice! Please join me tomorrow, for Day 21 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

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