Finnish Lemon Mead and Crullers

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Sometimes old books hold treasures.

Digging around an antique shop in St. Paul, we unearthed The Cooking of Scandinavia, a 40-year-old book in the Time / Life “Foods of the World” series.

simabookcoverThe Cooking of Scandinavia is food writing at its finest: Clear, direct, meticulously researched, curious without being judgmental, and open to all that’s richest and most universal about the complicated human relationship with food.

Here’s a passage about the smorgasbord:

Considering the staggering numbers of herring dishes alone offered by the smorgasbord, is it any wonder that people arriving at this table for the first time often do so in trepidation? Where to begin? What to eat next? And how to end? Perhaps a smorgasbord can never be too big, but Liet, my wife, and I found ourselves overwhelmed by the one we found at Stockholm’s Operakallaren Restaurant, considered by all to be the finest in Sweden. The table was moored, like an enormous pleasure yacht, in the middle of the room, its decks crowded with no less than 60 selections.

There’s a photo that really sells the book, on page 159: A refreshing-looking lager-type liquid flows from a tap into a rounded glass, raisins floating to the top of the beverage. Two powder-sugar dusted funnel cakes sit beside the glass.

The liquid is Sima, a Finnish lemon-flavored mead. Although meads are typically made from honey, the recipe provided relies only upon white and brown sugars. Total cost to manufacture about five quarts of this sparkling, refreshing, sunshiney, and lightly alcoholic beverage: about $1.25.

The hotter the weather, the better this stuff tastes.

The funnel cakes — which, as it turns out, are a perfect counterpart to the refreshing lemon drink — are Tippaleivät, or May Day crullers.

Sima (Finnish Lemon-Flavored Mead)
Adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia
Makes 5 quarts

2 large lemons
½ c granulated sugar
½ c brown sugar
5 quarts boiling water
⅛ tsp yeast
5 tsp sugar
15 raisins

  1. Measure the sugar and put it in a large (6 quart or larger) stainless steel or enameled bowl, or stockpot.
  2. Get a bit more than five quarts of water heating up to a boil.
  3. Prep the lemons. Using a sharp knife or rotary peeler, take off just the peels but not the white membrane underneath; put the peels into the bowl with the sugar.
  4. Using a knife, take off all the white membrane of your lemons, leaving just the fruit. Discard the membrane.
  5. Slice the fruit very thinly on a plate or raised-edge cutting board so that you can catch any incidental juice. Add the sliced lemons and juice to the bowl.
  6. Pour your boiling water over the sugars, lemon fruit, and peels. Give it a good stir.
  7. Wait a couple of hours until the bowl’s contents have cooled to a tepid temperature.
  8. Stir in the yeast. Let the bowl sit uncovered at room temperature for 12 hours.
  9. Grab five one-quart bottles. Put a teaspoon of sugar and three raisins into each bottle.
  10. Strain your lemon / sugar mixture through a sieve and transfer to a pitcher. Using a funnel, pour about a quart of liquid into each bottle, leaving some headroom.
  11. Let the bottles sit at room temperature for 1-2 days, until all three raisins have floated to the top.
  12. Refrigerate the bottles.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Tippaleivät (May Day Crullers)
Adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia
Makes 14-16 crullers

2 tbsp lukewarm water
¾ tsp active dry yeast
1 c lukewarm milk
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 c flour
Vegetable oil for deep-fat frying
Confectioner’s sugar

  1. Put the water into a small bowl and sprinkle in the yeast — let stand for 2-3 minutes, and then stir until the yeast is dissolved.
  2. Set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place such as an unlighted oven, and wait 3-5 minutes — the yeast should bubble and the mixture should double.
  3. Stir in the milk.
  4. In a large bowl, stir eggs and sugar together, then pour in the yeast mixture.
  5. While stirring briskly, add the salt.
  6. Add the flour ½ cup at a time, beating vigorously until a batter is formed.
  7. Cover with a kitchen towel, set in the unlighted oven for an hour or so, until the batter has doubled in bulk.
  8. Pour enough oil into a cast-iron skillet or deep-fat fryer until you’ve got an inch or two of depth.
  9. Heat until at least 325 degrees F, up to 350 degrees F.
  10. Spoon 1 cup of the batter into a pastry bag with a plain ¼-inch tip. Squeeze the batter out into the hot oil in circles to make a bird’s nest-style pattern, stacking 2 or 3 circles atop each other.
  11. Turn each cruller after a minute or so — they should be golden brown. Fry the other side for about a minute and remove to paper towels.
  12. Dust cooled crullers with powdered sugar and serve with Sima or coffee.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table


  1. James Norton

    For what it’s worth: I’ve used a two-quart bottle (three times now) and it’s never exploded. That said, I suspect the general advice of not moving to larger containers for a project like this is sound. Let me know how it turns out, Bill!

  2. Bill Roehl

    Will do. I’m sure I’ll have a post about it as well.

    The recipe doesn’t talk about sterilization or what type of yeast to use. I talked to a beer brewing buddy who said I should probably get mead yeast and sterilize like mad. Anyone else with suggestions on that?

  3. James Norton

    Yep, can’t help you there (vis a vis type of yeast or sterilizing) — I just followed the recipe as written and got fine results. Certainly couldn’t hurt to be fussier, though, I’m sure.

  4. Kate NG Sommers

    My mom has every country of the time life cook books, along with the larger picture books that were at the time included with them. Not only do I demand that those are left to me in the Will, it is my one day dream to make and shoot the food and get time life to republish them.

  5. JOSH

    WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA. Has anyone tried this mead?

    Is it any better than normal mead (which is categorically awful)? Should not the reader be warned that mead normally tastes like (and here, I quote myself) “a combination of old mushrooms, dog shit and a nickel you’ve been carrying around in your ass crack”?

    Does this mead taste any better than black mead? Or non-honeyed mead? Is the mouthfeel considerably better than a dog turd?

    I’m hopeful, but I’m worried.

    Very worried.

  6. James Norton

    Sam – seal ’em.

    Josh – this isn’t like typical mead — I’ve had my share of bad mead, no doubt. That said, this ain’t a transformational beverage. But — and this comes out in the article — it’s really simple and refreshing. It’s not entirely unlike an Arnold Palmer (50/50 lemonade / iced tea.)

  7. James Norton

    Let us know how it goes. I’ve never had a batch last more than a week (it gets consumed that quickly), but it seems fine throughout that duration without changing noticeably in flavor.

  8. Elizabeth

    We use this same book! We found it at a library book sale almost two decades ago. I love collecting old cookbooks and trying the recipes! My husband is from Finland and we make this every May 1. This year, I’ll be chronicling it in my blog, I started blogging so that our kids can have all of the traditional Finnish recipes, a lot of my cookbooks are actually in Finnish.

  9. Bill

    I tried this recipe 40 years ago from the book. Followed it to the letter but used heavy champagne bottles, wired shut. Put them in a box in the back room. The second day it sounded like a bomb. Peeked in, one had exploded,cardboard in tatters, glass in the walls. Quarantined the room for a week until they had all gone off.

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