How to Make the Most of Polish Berry Season
The range of berries available in Poland is mouth-wateringly good. And those huge punnets they come in – berry nice indeed! Here’s Culture.pl's guide to making the most of berry season in Poland...
Come May, Polish streets, markets and homes are filled with fresh strawberries. Later on, in June, July and August, raspberries and sweet cherries come into the mix, not to mention blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries and black, red and white currants. Depending on the weather conditions, the abundance of each berry may vary, but nobody can imagine Polish summer without a whole lot of berries...
Strawberries & wild strawberries
Kaszëbske malëna (which actually means ‘Kashubian raspberry’ in the Kashubian language) is the most famous strawberry in the country. Grown in the beautiful and distinct north-western region of Kashubia since the beginning of the 20th century, it was introduced to local farmers by Anastazy Sadowski, who was a priest, social worker and local hero. It is supposed to be the sweetest and most aromatic kind of all and, as a regional product, it’s now protected with an EU geographical indication.
Even if you can’t find this particular type, Polish strawberries – truskawki – are definitely worth your while: usually quite small, dark red and sweet, they are the perfect companion to a number of desserts and even sweet main courses. Strawberries and cream, the increasingly popular strawberry smoothies and shakes, strawberry pierogi and knedle are adored by most Poles, while strawberry kompot is a nostalgic drink, recently making a comeback.
Foreigners are often surprised when they see small boxes filled with teeny tiny strawberries. Wild strawberries or poziomki are the ancestors of the artificially bred strawberries, and are a rare delicacy – they taste like summer! They are difficult to grow, so if you ever happen to find them, consider yourself lucky and just enjoy them without adding anything… unless you find a lot of them, then you can make wild strawberry jam or wine.
Raspberries – maliny in Polish – are enjoyed all over Europe. In Poland, we have a special fondness for this beautiful berry – its praises were sung by Polish poets from Bolesław Leśmian to Wojciech Młynarski, and Malina is not uncommon as a girls’ name (another popular one is Jagoda, namely 'bilberry'). Also, if you want to say something is delicious or lovely, you can say it’s miód malina, which means ‘honey and raspberry‘.
Poland is one of the biggest raspberry producers and exporters in Europe. More than half of Polish raspberries come from the Kraśnik region in south-east Poland and it’s there where the best syrups, wines and cordials are made. Both raspberry syrup and spirits called maliniak or malinówka can be enjoyed with hot tea on cold winter nights. In the summer, sweet raspberries can obviously be enjoyed on their own but also used in multiple ways both in sweet and savoury dishes. Raspberry sauce is paired with duck and cheese and the syrup is used in a vinaigrette eaten with summer salads. Tartlets and cheesecakes are really popular, as well as raspberry jams and jellies.
Bilberries & blueberries
There are some culinary staples Poles look forward to all year: Christmas borscht is one, pączki on Fat Thursday are another, while cold beetroot soup, new potatoes and fresh fava beans also make the list. But nothing exemplifies the nostalgic flavour of summer holidays in Poland as well as jagodzianki. Yeast buns filled with fresh bilberries are a delicacy enjoyed in the whole country, although there are a few places in Poland that claim ownership of the best traditional recipes, mostly in Mazovia and Mazury regions.
Na Jagody (Bilberry Foraging) is one of Maria Konopnicka’s iconic children's tales. The fruits in the tale, more than any other, evoke the smell and wilderness of the Polish forest, and are not to be confused with North American blueberries (borówki amerykańskie) which are bigger, sweeter and were only introduced to Europe in the 1930s.
As if that were not complicated enough, one of Poland’s best-known linguistic battles also has this fruit at its core: what is called jagoda in most of Poland, in Kraków is named borówka, while everywhere else the word borówka is used either for huckleberries or the American blueberries mentioned earlier. Anyway, if you come across the beautiful bilberry, just add cream and sugar for a simple treat or make a jam to spread on fresh bread.
When it comes to blackcurrant production and export, Poland is an unquestionable leader, dictating prices all over the world. Red and white currants as well as gooseberries and aronia berries – all often referred to in Polish as owoce ogrodowe, meaning ’garden fruit’ – are also quite popular. Many Poles associate their taste with allotments (działki), where our parents and grandparents cultivated their own berry bushes.
Filled with vitamins and fibre, these fruits can all be listed among Poland’s superfoods. Apart from blackcurrants, which are quite tart, they can be enjoyed raw, but more often they are turned into jams, juices and preserves. Blackcurrant is one of the most popular juice flavours in Poland, right next to apple and orange. All currants can be used in tarts and crumbles or added to old-fashioned Polish jelly desserts such as kisiel and galaretka. Wines and liquors are also made out of them: jellies and spirits made from red currants (also called świętojonki, because they ripen around St. John’s day) are traditional products from the Pomorze region.
While in most Western countries berries are only sold in small plastic containers, in Poland we buy (and eat them) in bulk: vendors usually sell 2kg of strawberries in a special punnet known as a łubianka or kobiałka. Once traditional units of measurements, the words are now used almost exclusively to describe these rectangular ’fruit baskets’. In Poland, 200g of berries is definitely not enough – here we take our berries seriously!
Written by Natalia Mętrak-Ruda, June 2017