Fruit That Brings You to Your Knees First they’re green, then white, and finally red – and thus ripe. Lingonberries are some of the tastiest produce of the Black Forest, although there are only very few people who really like to eat them raw. In their pure form, they taste bitter and will turn your mouth inside out, but once processed, they are a culinary delight and ideal with game or baked Camembert. Or as a secret weapon in Monkey 47. The lingonberry is one of the 47 botanicals that give the Black Forest dry gin its distinctive flavor.
Growing only 10 to 40 centimeters in height, the plant is known by botanists as “Vaccinium vitis-idaea” and, like the blueberry, belongs to the Ericaceae family. It can be found in partly shaded to sunny locations. It likes to grow in acidic soil that is rich in humus and, in the summer, it produces wonderful small, white, goblet-like flowers. Between August and September, it bears its fruit. If you have ever been out walking and wondered about people who are on their knees, scrabbling about on the forest floor, they’re only trying to gather lingonberries. Collecting them is extremely laborious because the individual plants produce only very little fruit.
It is easiest to harvest them with a kind of comb scoop, which is open at the front and has a handle with a metallic or wooden comb on it. You use it to comb through the plants, and the berries roll into the container all by themselves. However, this tool needs to be used with care. You have to ensure that no twigs or leaves are pulled off, and not everyone is pleased to discover that a lingonberry plant has been quickly stripped of all its fruit by a single person.
Lingonberries are commonly used in the Black Forest to make fruit compote or jam. Another delicious way of preparing them is to use lingonberries instead of cherries in Black Forest gateau.
To clear up a common misunderstanding, although the German “Preiselbeere” (lingonberry) is generally believed to be the same as the North American cranberry, they are indeed related but belong to separate species and have different flavors. And if a German buys a “Kulturpreiselbeere” from his plant retailer of choice, he won’t get a lingonberry but a cranberry (also known in German as a “großfruchtige Moosbeere”). A comb scoop can also be used to effectively harvest another relation of the lingonberry – the blueberry, or bilberry. As with the red fruit, however, gatherers should remember not to get carried away with their passion for collecting. You may gather enough for your private needs, but as with mushrooms, larger quantities are prohibited. Especially in conservation areas, of which there are quite a few in the Black Forest. After all, the animals should also be able to have some of these wonderful berries. And let’s not forget the local gin manufacturers.