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Picking Lingonberries

In the fall, when we were living on Karlavagen in Stockholm, we would go out to the forest to pick Lingonberries.  In my mind, this seems like a custom, something we did many times, although logic tells me that we only lived on Karlavagan for a short time and that we couldn’t have gone picking more than twice.  As in feudal Europe, “twice makes a custom.”

Carin Malmberg would arrive in the morning to pick us up.  She had a new Volkswagen Beetle.  That must have been rather remarkable at the time since this was probably about 1950 and only small numbers of cars were being produced.  Certainly it was unlike any other car I’d ever seen.  Possum sat in the front and I had the back seat to myself.  What I liked about the car was the small, open luggage area behind the back seat.  I was still small enough to climb in there and feel a bit like a baby kangaroo in a mother’s pouch.  For an eight-year old boy the view from the luggage area was also a big improvement.

Our destination was a wooded area outside of Stockholm.  I have no idea if this was public land or a park or just a wild area but in Sweden the public has a common-law right to pick lingon in the forests.  We would spend the morning picking lingon off the low bushes — only about ten inches high, much smaller than blueberry bushes.   The berries are also smaller than blueberries and very tart.  The picking goes rather faster with lingon as compared to blueberries because there is no temptation to eat them.  I have the impression that we picked a couple of good-sized pails full..

Once we got the berries home Possum would put them on the stove in a large, deep pot; the sort of thing that you would use for making a fish chowder.  The berries were mixed with a great deal of sugar and then stirred.  We did this on the stove, but I’m not sure if the sauce was actually cooked, or just stirred.  The red berries were beautiful in with the crystaline sugar. 

Postcript:  I was hunting around on the Web for information about the 1950 VW Bug and found this ad.  It would be hard to prove but I suspect that a big part of the success of the Bug was due to the clever and often very funny advertisements.  It was only after they switched to more conventional ads that the Beetle died off. 

For those of you who aren’t old enough to remember discussions about whether a Beetle would actually float I can’t do better than recount the story that was told about my first boss at Honeywell, John Wiley.  John was a interesting guy.  He’d put himself through college riding rodeo and had a tough, independent streak.  The story is that John drove a Saab and another section head drove a VW.  They were out drinking one night and got to discussing their respective cars.  They both were convinced that their car would float and that the other’s car would not, so they decided to put the matter to a test.   In those days the area outside  Route 128 wasn’t particularly built up and they quickly found a suitable pond and drove both cars down the bank and into the water.  Neither floated.

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