Thirsty Have a cup of birch blog

We all love a cold cup of juice in the morning and Russians are no different!
According to the Russian Union of Juice Producers, the Russian juice market equates to some 2.5 billion litres of juice products per year! If we look at surveys, residents of Russia primarily prefer apple and anything else mixed with apple juice, followed by multifruit, the classic orange and tomato.

But, let’s look at the less traditional juices that Russians enjoy and tourists add to their Must try list.

Birch juice
The Birch tree is the symbol of Russian nature and Russian beauty, and has a very special place in the country’s culture. It's also the source of a tasty drink. The birch juice first became popular in the USSR: cheap, easy to extract, and the benefits were beyond any doubt! Full of vitamins B6 and B12 and great for skin, and hair as well!

birch sap
These days, the birch juice is very popular. Birch sap is known for its detoxifying, diuretic, cleansing and purifying properties, and can be drunk fresh straight out of the tree! But...not any tree. Russia regulates the seasons and age of trees that can be juiced. The gathering season runs from late March till mid-April, and the older the tree the better (a small tree gives about 3 litres of sap, but a large one up to 7). And you never extract the sap from a young tree as the process will kill it.

How to juice the tree...
The first rule is: do not use an axe! You do need to be gentle as not to damage the tree. The best way is to drill a small hole. The smaller the cut, the faster the tree will recover. The best collecting time is from noon till sunset and after extracting, the incision should be covered with clay, wax, or moss.
The sap keeps for up to 2 days only so make sure not to waste any: it can also be used in making kvass or syrup. But you don’t need to drink it! You can use frozen birch sap to wash your face (perfect to tone and rejuvenate your skin!) or simply rinse your hair. You will be amazed with the results.

Not a fan of birch? ...try Kvas!
If you do not fancy wandering the forests in search of a hallowed birch tree (technically you can buy it as well but where’s the fun in that!) try another Russian delicacy: the refreshing beverage made from fermented rye bread!
In the old days, during the summer, yellow barrel-trailers would appear everywhere on the streets. A lady in a coat would be sitting next to, pouring kvass straight from the barrel.

Kvass could be bought by the pint in a glass, but many people also arrived with their own bottles. Kvass was certainly a Soviet symbol of summer!
Now, kvass is still popular. Homemade kvass is a perfect probiotic beverage made with leftover stale bread. It's bubbly and refreshing, the perfect drink for a hot summer day.

Ingredients for Bread Kvass: 
loaf of dark Rye Bread 400g the darker the better
5 litres water
1 tablespoon honey optional
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons brewers yeast 7 grams or 1 packet
2 teaspoons raisins sultanas

Fill large stock pot with 5 litres of water and bring to a boil.
Toast the bread on the darkest toaster setting. The darker the toast, the darker the kvass will be, a little blackness is ok.
When the water is boiled, remove from heat. Add the toast to the boiling water, cover and allow to cool (better to leave overnight).
Strain the toasted bread using a cheese cloth.
The kvass will be cold at this moment. Quickly warm up the kvass on the stove, until it is warm and around 35°C/95°F. Don't use water hotter than 45°C/110°F, or it will kill the yeast. If the water is cold, the yeast won't activate.
Remove the warmed Kvass off the heat. Add the yeast, sugar, honey and 1 teaspoon of raisins and allow to sit for 6-8 hours. Stir to make sure the sugar and honey are fully dissolved. You will see foam and bubbles start to rise in the kvass.
Strain the kvass using a cheese cloth. Put 2-3 raisins in each soft drink bottle and pour the kvass and seal tightly. Only fill the bottle about 2/3 of the way, squeezing the sides letting air out, as it will continue to ferment and expand in the fridge. The next day, when the bottle is too tight, open it to release some air out, and squeeze again.

After about 3 days in the fridge, your kvass is ready to enjoy!


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