Ash Cider ~ aka Manna Ash Leaf Frenette
Frenette is a mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented ash leaves. It is an ancient drink, possibly made in Gaul around the time of the Romans, that originates in the North of France and Belgium. Variations on the name include freinette or fresnée frênée. This ‘Forest Champagne’ was still widely made in Normandy villages (also Picardy, Lorraine, Haute-Marne, Provence and Velay) in the 1950s and 1960s but is not found as often these days. The famous French writer Colette was reputed to love and make frenette.
Frenette is bubbly and tastes a little like a type of mild cider. It has a light apple bouquet, the colour of champagne and evokes the lazy days of summer! A great family drink, as the alcohol content is very low, it’s lovely for picnics on hot days. It is easy and quick to make, doesn’t need preservatives or pasteurizing, nor any complicated equipment.
In Scotland, our ash trees comes into leaf by May. Traditionally, for frenette, the leaves are usually picked from late June through to late August. As the summer temperatures rise, the leaves start to get covered in a sticky sweet sap that oozes from the leaves, making them look white and almost translucent. This is caused by infestation by the European Elm Scale Gossyparia spuria. It causes the tree to react by producing a sweet secretion. A related species Gossyparia mannapara infects tamarisk trees and is one possible explanation of the Biblical desert food called ‘manna’.
The dried, crystallised tree sap is often called ‘manna ash’ of ‘Manna of Sicily’ and was often sold in traditional pharmacies. It has many medicinal properties, one of modern interest being that it can be used as a diabetic sweetener as it does not raise glycaemic blood sugar levels. Both the sugar mannose and the alcohol mannitol were originally derived from it. Drinking frenette was reputed to help gout sufferers by lowering the uric acid in their bodies.
In France there are three types of ash. The Common European ash Fraxinus excelsior is the only one common across Northern France and Britain. There is also the Narrow-leafed Ash Fraxinus angustifolia and the Flowering Ash Fraxinus ornus that grow further south. The latter, also called Manna Ash, is the one that produces the highest quantities of manna but it is only native to warmer Mediterranean areas.
If you can’t find leaves with manna from an infested tree, you can use green leaves – pick them away from road verges. In this case you can add ‘Manna of Sicily’, if you can buy it – extremely hard these days – at a ratio of 250g per 2 kg of leaves. Otherwise you can add raw cane sugar or brown demerara sugar. Click here to try making your own by tapping ash trees.
Once you’ve picked your leaves, sort through them and remove the stalks. You can keep any flowers. Ideally they will then be dried in the shade, reducing the water content and raising the leaf sugars. However, they can be used fresh if you are adding cane sugar.
There are two main ways of making frenette, and which one you choose depends entirely on the manna content of your leaves. Here are two recipes: