In any kind of weather, wearing knitted wool sweaters and rain boots, with black coffee in thermo-flasks and slices of raisin pound cake carefully wrapped in Saran wrap, Icelandic families flock to the heath in the summer for berry picking. The stream doesn’t flow to just any heath; it flows to their very special, family-secret kind of spot with the best bilberry shrubs and crowberry evergreens. Spending the day cautiously picking berries into giant, recycled mayonnaise tubs, avoiding any leaves and small sticks while secretly competing with each other on who picks the most, these families feed the children stories of trolls and supernatural creatures.
Growing up in Iceland, I'll be the first one to admit that I’ve never liked berry picking. Probably because I never won that (internal yet completely in-your-face) competition among siblings; plus, I’mnot at all a proficient or patient berry picker. Too many tiny leaves find their way into my bucket and half of what I pick ends up in my mouth anyway. Being a huge berry lover (which you automatically are when you’re Icelandic(, I was forced to go berry picking because these delicate gems aren’t sold in stores, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on skyr with a good splash of heavy cream topped with a mountain of freshly picked berries. Let me tell you: It’s so worth it.
Traditionally, berries in the North are used for sweet treats like pies, cordials, and jams or as a fresh topping, but rarely used in savory cooking. Preserving and fermenting is an ancient cultural necessity of ours, and saving food for hard winter is still a rich tradition even though the island is far from isolated anymore. My mother and grandmother still make liters of jam every fall even though the pantry is still stacked with jars of bilberry jam dated three years back.
I didn’t grow up cooking with berries in a savory context, other than, of course, when jam was served with meat to balance out the saltiness that’s also rich in our cooking culture from all the curing and smoking. But being who I am (a photographer-turned-adventurous home cook) and writing my cookbook From the North: A Simple and Modern Approach to Authentic Nordic Cooking, I felt the need to experiment using known Nordic ingredients in new and untraditional ways.
Using berries for savory cooking can be a fun and lovely addition to your weeknight repertoire. Berries bring a surprisingly fresh sourness that is very different from, let’s say, citrus, and help tenderize the meat in a gentle way when used as a marinade. For this recipe, I chose easily accessible berries: blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. But I encourage you to experiment with sourer options like gooseberries and currants.
If you’re intrigued by using more berries in your cooking, then I recommend the rustic Berry-Marinated Leg of Lamb in my book, as well as the Flounder With Berry Butter and Smoked Currants and Reindeer Tartare. You can also find my Blackberry BBQ Sauce over at my blog, Modern Wifestyle.
Happy Nordic cooking!
- 4 pork chops (bone-in and approximately 1/2 pound each)
- 3 1/2 ounces blackberries
- 3 1/2 raspberries
- 3 1/2 ounces blueberries
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 pinch salt and pepper, to taste
Have you ever cooked with berries in a savory way? Tell us in the comments below.