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Lingon, tyttebaer, the lingonberry

A staple in close to every Scandinavian home, many Americans encounter lingonberries for the first time browsing the aisles at their local IKEA.

Foie gras and lingonberries on buttered toast
Not only has the popular furniture chain reformed the way citizens of the world decorate their homes, but it also takes Swedish meatballs served with lingonberries everywhere it goes.
So it comes as no surprise that while many of us associate lingonberries with those meatballs, as a trimming with pancakes, or a complement to poultry or meat, a growing number of Scandinavian and American chefs have learned how to use this Scandinavian staple in a variety of dishes and combinations. Although related to the North American cranberry, it is less tart and much smoother than its distant relative.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea (cowberry and lingonberry) is a small evergreen shrub in the flowering plant family Ericaceae (heath) that bears edible fruit. It is seldom cultivated, but the fruit is commonly harvested from the wild. Its native habitat is the forests of northern Eurasia and North America, extending from temperate into subarctic climates.
The fruit, actually a false berry, is red and acidic, ripening in late summer to autumn.
The species resembles the related and similar cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus, V. microcarpum and V. macrocarpon), differing mainly in having white, not pink, flowers, with inward-turning petals partially enclosing the stamen and pistils, and rounder, less pear-shaped berries.
The English word lingonberry comes from the Swedish word lingon. Lingonberry is sometimes confused with the related cowberry, as both are sometimes also called Lowbush Cranberry, European Cranberry, Mountain or Wild Cranberry.

Thanksgiving in New England
The fourth Thursday of each November is a time of migration all over the United States. Children return home to parents, families gather, their doors open to one and all. Many a European latter-day immigrant can attest to the open, warm and giving atmosphere that takes over in every American home. Each year, the sitting president proclaims a day of Thanksgiving, which most families celebrate, regardless of culture, creed or religion.

The 19th-century reinterpretation of the 1621 festival has become a model for the U.S. version of Thanksgiving, but the tradition has a long history, going back to ancient times. Thanksgiving is related to harvest festivals that have long been celebrated in much of Europe.

In New England, the location for the first European settlements of the 17th century, the generous colors of the fall foliage have given way to earthier tones, both in colors and in peoples’ moods. Every family has its own way of preparing the feast, but the 45 million turkeys consumed on that one day are testimony to the bird’s place as a fixture on the Thanksgiving table.

“Turkey Day”
Of all the Thanksgiving symbols, the turkey has become the most well known. The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern U.S., and though there is no real evidence that turkey was served at the Pilgrim's first thanksgiving, in a book written by the Pilgrim's Governor Bradford, he does mention wild turkeys. In a letter sent to England, another Pilgrim describes how the governor sent "four men out fowling," and they returned with turkeys, ducks and geese.

Today, the turkey is king of the American Thanksgiving table (and does pretty well the rest of the year, too):
• Ninety percent of American homes eat turkey on Thanksgiving – for a total of 45 millions turkeys consumed on that one day.
• Americans' love of turkey has soared. Government statistics show that consumption went from 8.1 lbs per person in 1980 to 18 lb per person in 2001. (Compare that to just 1.7 lbs per person in Sweden.)
• Californians are the biggest turkey eaters in the country, eating three pounds more turkey than the average American consumer.

We visited a Scandinavian-American family in Connecticut, who served a classic, oven-roasted turkey with mashed sweet potatoes, pan-seared vegetables, string beans, Danish red cabbage and a lingonberry sauce, spiced up with orange and a pinch of lemon.

Chef Sheri Kimball, who encountered red cabbage along with the lingonberry trimmings for the first time at her friend’s home, had already developed a taste for the Scandinavian berry, which complements the turkey in a smoother way then the traditional cranberry sauce.

“None of our American guests have ever shunned the experience and taste of lingonberries,” claims our Danish-born hostess. “On the contrary, it would seem that the lingonberry preserve, which is much smoother and slightly on the sweet side when served on its own, resonates well with the American palate, and the same is true for the red cabbage—such a staple with pork and poultry in Denmark and southern Sweden.

“Our family uses the lingonberry preserves served as is, from the can, or spices it up with black pepper, a bit of gin or sherry, or orange and lemon.”

This particular Thanksgiving also featured a Scandinavian-accented gourmet appetizer in the form of buttered toasts with foie gras and lingonberries.

Thanksgiving with a Scandinavian twist

Photographer: Henrik Olund
Stylist: Mette Barslund
Contributors: Beth Corso, Marissa Fergusson, Sheri Kimball

A Scandinavian family in posh Fairfield County 45 minutes northeast of Manhattan celebrates its favorite American holiday. Every family has its traditions and its own recipes for the Thanksgiving main course and the many side dishes. If you’re looking for new inspiration, recipes abound online – see, for instance, www.eatturkey.com, or, for a full Thanksgiving planner, go to www.marthastewart.com.

Mashed sweet potatoes
Roasted vegetables
Haricots verts with roasted almonds
Danish red cabbage (rødkål) and Swedish lingonberry preserves

Gustavian dining room of unknown background, likely special-ordered items.
Chandelier and linen napkins are treasured acquisitions from visits to auctions in Scandinavia
Area rug has been in the family for generations
Curtains from IKEA

Stemware: Dizzy Diamond, design Malin Lindahl; by Orrefors
China: Royal Copenhagen
Scandinavian food and linen runner: Scandinavian Food and Gifts, Norwalk, Conn.

Foie gras and lingonberries on buttered toast
Tablecloth: Ekelunds, Sweden
Wine glass: Orrefors classic Chateau

4 oz. unsalted butter, melted
Soft white bread, challah or brioche, cut into ½-inch thick squares (enough to make about 15 squares)
4 oz. mousse of duck foie gras
1/2 cup lingonberries
Zest of one lemon
Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Prepare the lingonberry topping. In a small bowl, combine the lingonberries, lemon zest and pepper. Place bread squares on cooking sheet. Brush the bread on both sides with the melted butter. Bake until lightly golden, about 5-6 minutes. Keep a close eye on the bread so it will not get too brown. While the toasts are still warm, place a generous 1/2 teaspoon of foie gras atop each. Finish with about 1/4 teaspoon of lingonberry mixture.

”Unbeknownst to my Scandinavian friends, I’ve used the lingonberry in my cooking for many years,” claims chef Sheri Kimball. ”This particular foie gras recipe was created for a menu at a wine tasting dinner in the winter of 2006. To start the menu, we wanted to serve samplings of small tastes or appetizers. I love foie gras, especially in the winter, so comforting! For the occasion, it had to be served in such a way that it could be easily eaten with your hands in one bite. The tartness of the lingonberries with the smooth, creamy mixture of the foie gras mousse seemed like the perfect combination. And yes, the lemon zest just brings out the fresh tart flavor of the lingonberries with a finishing peppery bite!”

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