Thursday, September 15, 2011

specimens of the literature of Sweden - jamjars


Ingredienser: Socker, blåbär, förtjockningsmedel: pektin, syra: citronsyra. Fruktmängd 45g per 100g sylt. Sockerhalt 62g / 100g.

Also translated into 15 other languages. The English translation is "blueberries", but that's inaccurate (though a literal rendering of the Swedish name). The fresh fruit which is sold in the UK as blueberry is one of a number of North American species, such as Vaccinium cyanococcus (American blueberry). This, on the other hand is the European species Vaccinium myrtillus, which as a wild plant is usually called Bilberry or Whortleberry. It is very common in Sweden and is an important ingredient in Swedish cuisine - the right to pick bilberries everywhere (except from nature reserves and private gardens) is encoded in law.

Bilberries are difficult to cultivate, so all gathering is from the wild and is manual, using a bilberry fork, which looks a bit like a metal dustpan with extended tines; you use it to comb through the small shrubs and pop off the berries into a rear compartment with a raised lip. Significant manual labour is involved in the 45g of fruit in this jar. Though all country-dwellers pick bilberries for their own use, it's unusual for Swedes to pick for industry, they aren't usually in the economic bracket that is attracted by this sort of work and besides have neither the refined skills of a pieceworker nor habituation to long, repetitive labour. The gatherers were formerly Poles, now more often Lithuanians and Russians. The pickers live out in the forest, moving from site to site. When I was there in July, just before the season began, the fleet of shiny new campervans drawn up by the road in Bispgården looked very impressive. The chief crops in our area are successively cloudberries, bilberries and lingonberries.

Finnish: "mustikka". French "myrtilles", as per the Latin name. Portuguese: "uva do monte" (mountain grape).

In Swedish "bär" (berry) is the same in singular and plural, like English "sheep". Is this because it was rare to want to talk about a singlet of these things? (a farmer will always specify a ewe, tup, lamb etc.)

"Sylt" (jam) : apparently first recorded in 1755 and related to "salt" (i.e. an analogous method of preserving food?).


Ingredienser: Socker, krusbär, förtjockningsmedel: pektin, syra: citronsyra. Fruktmängd 45g per 100g sylt. Sockerhalt 62g / 100g.

This one is gooseberry jam.

The dictionaries suppose that "gooseberry" is derived from Fr. "groseille" which is derived from an old German word "krausbeere", which, of course, also connects to Sw. "krusbär". That's all quite persuasive, but not the original meaning of "kraus" which they suggest is "crisp" (Latin name Ribes uva-crispa alludes to this).

If any berry could be described as crisp then gooseberry would be a good choice, but "kraus" in modern German (and "krusig" in modern Swedish) means "crisp" in a very specific sense, i.e. "crisped" like the leaves of parsley or "frizzy" like hair. (e.g. kruståtel = Wavy Hair-grass (Deschampsia flexuosa), kruskål = Curly Kale, krushårig = frizzy-haired)

So I suppose the name originally referred not to the texture of the berry but to the funny little hair-like projections on its surface.



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