Monday, September 23, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Lingonberries

     I just finished up a stint in Iowa, which has a population with significant Scandinavian ancestry, so here's one more of their delicacies--lingonberries.  These berries, which come from low shrubs, thrive in cold environments.  In addition to Scandinavia, they're avidly consumed in Canada, Poland, and Russia, and have been recently introduced to the Pacific Northwest.  However, the jar I tried was Swedish-made, and due to the popular, worldwide Swedish store, IKEA (which sells lingonberry products), probably many folks associate this food mainly with this country.
     It's not uncommon for foods to go by several names, but lingonberries take this to extremes.  Just staying with the English versions, alternate titles are redberries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, and red whortleberries.  Then we move to animal names--foxberries, beaverberries, bearberries, quailberries, cougarberries, and partridgeberries.  Why folks didn't keep going, and identify them as muskoxenberries, mooseberries, yetiberries, etc., I'll never know.
     Lingonberries are eaten in various ways--raw off the bush, in jams, cooked and paired with meats (elk and reindeer are two popular choices), with potato pancakes, or as dessert items.  They're also sometimes made into a type of soft drink in the simplest way possible, by putting the whole berries into bottles of water, leaving them for a while, and then enjoying the result, which is called vattlingon.  They're also occasionally used to flavor vodka.
     Healthwise they're an excellent option.  The berries are high in Vitamins C, A, and several of the B's.  They're also rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.  Folk medicines claim several uses for them as well, including as a treatment against urinary tract infections.
     I had lingonberries as a jam.  I tried a spoonful or two plain, and then on bread.  I came away impressed.  It's tart, but not overly so.  They're very reminiscent of their close relative, cranberries.  Family members who sampled some also were very enthusiastic.  So once again--it's a winner.  Unless you dislike berries, or tart-ish flavors, get 'em if you can.  To paraphrase/mutilate a famous bit of poetry, "A lingonberry by any other name would taste as delicious."

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