As far as I can tell lingon berries are unique to Scandinavia and the far reaches of Alaska and northern Canada, where they are known as mountain cranberries. That’s a shame, because I think the whole world should have the chance to taste them.
Now is the prime season for these little red berries, that look like baby cranberries (if cranberries had babies), and blanket the forest floors across Sweden at this time of year. They are round, plump, ruby-red and packed with flavor and benzoic acid (thanks Wikipedia); the latter gifting them with absurdly long keeping abilities.
In Sweden they are available year-round in the form of lingon berry jam, a cheap and sweet concoction, popular mostly as an accompaniment to the ubiquitous Swedish meatballs.
But lingon berries are without question best eaten in season in the wonderfully simple, strikingly delicious rårörda lingon. Literally translated as raw, stirred lingon, the name describes perfectly what it is: raw lingon berries, stirred with sugar to make a simple, sharp and uniquely good foil to fatty, autumnal meat dishes.
As the French have their pork and apples, the English their lamb and redcurrants, the Swede’s enjoy the undeniable delicacy of pork and game with lingon berries.
I made a large jar this weekend; enough for a few months’ worth. It’s one of the highlights of my food year, and as far as the simple-to-make, delicious-to-taste ratio goes, it’s hard to beat.
I’d like to say that I wandered the forest, wicker basket in hand, plucking ruby berries. I considered saying it, even. But that would be a lie. The less romantic truth is that I bought a kilo of them from a stall outside IKEA. That’s what I love about Sweden: they tell the world that IKEA is the ultimate in Swedish egalitarianism; wherever you go in the world, all IKEA’s are alike. What they don’t tell you is that in Sweden they pitch stalls outside selling fresh strawberries in the summer and wild mushrooms and lingon berries in the autumn. Gotta love that.
The recipe for raw-stirred-lingon is simple:
- Move to Sweden, Alaska or northern Canada
- Gather 1 kilo of lingon berries
- Wash them and pick out any foreign bodies (easier said than done)
- Place them in a large bowl and add 2.5 dl of sugar
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved (i.e. until the sugar stops crunching)
Wash and rinse a pickling jar and place in the oven at 120c for ten minutes to sterilize, cool and pour in the berries.
This simple mix will keep for up to three months in the fridge. If you want to skip step one, you might have a little more difficulty finding the berries, but I urge you to try; it really is worth the effort.