Finland is full of them lingonberries. . From the yellow clustered cloudberry of Lapland to the plain old strawberry, you can find almost any berry variation, especially in Autumn. Perhaps one of the most traditional berries is the lingonberry, more widely known as the cowberry since the name lingonberry is borrowed from Swedish. In Finnish, they’re called puolukka.
Lingonberries can be found in shady patches of forest and are hardy shrubs, enduring temperatures of -40. The small, red fruit is often confused with cranberries or red currants. Lingon-berries have quite an acidic taste and for this reason they are often cooked and sweetened before eating in the form of jams and syrups. Although Helinä Turunen says, “They’re nommy just the way they are.” Finns being big fans of porridge also combine crushed lingonberries with semolina, making a traditional ’vispipuuro’ that’s more a dessert than breakfast.
Miika Kasnio says, “Vispipuuro is the only form I can eat them eat. I hate lingonberries.” They definitely are an acquired taste. “Puolukka looks scary… they look poisoning,” says Mark Swarts from The Netherlands.
But lingonberries are also a common accompaniment to savoury dishes as with the traditional sautéed reindeer and mashed potato dish. In this dish the berries are often eaten raw with a bit of sugar. Lingonberries are popular throughout Europe and their uses range from sweetened candy to laxative solutions (although just about any berry will have this effect if one over-indulges). They’re also popular on the other side of the Atlantic across North America in a variety of sweeter forms. But perhaps they’re best used in the Swedish Lillehammer liqueur and Eastern European lingonberry vodka. Looking for a source of vitamin C, B1, 2 & 3, and essential elements like potassium and calcium? Lingonberries have them all and even contain phytochemicals, which counteract urinarytract infections and even cancers. The seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vital for metabolism. In folk medicine, the lingonberry has many uses from being a disinfectant to a breast cancer treatment. So no matter how you eat them, having lingonberries on the menu is a good idea. “When I get sick in winter I treat myself with lingonberries,” says Helinä Turunen. “The antioxidants and vitamins help when you eat a lot of them.” Just don’t forget the laxative effect! Procuring lingonberries requires a trip to the freezer section of your local market or a hike into the forest for the more organic approach – go armed with raincoat and bucket. According to the freedom to roam or every man’s rights laws in Finland, you may walk through any piece of land so long as you don’t disturb the owners or damage property.
You also have the right to pick whatever wild berries you find, although it’s best to check if there are any restrictions in place as there are in Lapland regarding cloudberries, which may not be collected and taken away. Individual towns and areas may also have their own restrictions in place so always check local information before picking anything – and be sure you know what you’re picking! Further info can be found at www.lapland-travel-info.com.
Lingonberries are usually found in shady clumps beneath pine trees but if venturing into a soggy forest isn’t for you, you can always raid a Finnish friend’s freezer – Finns tend to stockpile frozen berries from generous grandparents for the winter. If you’re not a porridge fan, an alternative lingonberry dish is the ‘puolukkapiirakka’, a traditional dessert
pie. The recipe is simple if you buy ready made pastry, all you need are berries, sugar and potato flour. The quantity of sugar depends on taste and how tart you prefer the berries. This filling is lactose free and vegan friendly but eggs and butter are optional additions. This pie tastes best when served with either ice cream or vanilla sauce.
The lingonberry is part of Finnish tradition and, with the right amount of sugar, you might just love them.
Suzanne van Rooyen