Cultivating and Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Reader Contribution by Marion Gabriela Wick
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There is a fascinating story to Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia). Everywhere in northern Europe there are avenues planted with it. In big cities, the like of Stockholm or Hamburg as well as there are small country roads, leading to the edge of nowhere, lined with whitebeam trees about everywhere. I believe it’s the most common avenue tree between polar circle and about 52nd lat.

But why is that? You might get a clue, when you hear the German word for it: Mehlbeere, which translates to “meal-berry”.

Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Swedish whitebeam berries are ripe about the end of September. Middle of September last fields of grain are harvested here. Now, if grain harvest wasn’t good, perhaps due to bad weather or fungus, people used the berries of Swedish whitebeam to supplement or sometime even substitute grain.

The flesh has a mild, somewhat “boring” flavor, while the seeds, once ground, develop a pleasant marzipan type flavor, and are rich on fat. So even in terms of nutrients these berries are a good substitute for grain. They, of course, aren’t grass, so they are lacking gluten. So, for backing purposes, berry meal would need wheat or spelt added to.

Our ancestors used to dehydrate berries and grind them in a grain mill, which is an awkward process and not every modern grain mill would take the oily seeds.

So, if I bake traditional whitebeam bread, I would just shred fresh or frozen berries finely in a blender and use the pulp, instead of water, to make dough of wholesome wheat or spelt meal and yeast. A drop of maple syrup or honey and a pinch of salt would enhance flavor.

We traditionally eat buttered whitebeam bread along with autumn’s first pumpkin soup.

There is another kind of whitebeam, the large or “German” whitebeam (Sorbus aria). Its berries are much larger and have rather big pits which are bitter in taste. It grows in areas south of Swedish whitebeam’s habitat. I am not sure can you use its berries as well. Since those trees are not as tolerant against minus temperatures and cold wind, they wouldn’t grow here and I am not really familiar with their use.

Besides baking bread, Swedish whitebeam berries can be used for to make jam, but should be blended with more tasty berries or apples. They also can be dried and used instead of raisins for baking. Especially when they are dried first and then soaked with black rum, they would add a nice “Christmas-type” taste to cake or cookies. Dehydrated and then shredded berries make a nice marzipan-flavored fruit infusion.

Cultivating Swedish Whitebeam

The sturdy little trees won’t grow much taller than about 30 feet. They are highly resistant against strong wind and salt, here they have to frequently put up with winds around 100 mph, being exposed to salt spray.

They would grow in any soil, but if you want to sufficiently harvest berries, it shouldn’t be too poor or too low on PH. Swedish whitebeam seeds need rather cold temperatures to germinate, but the tree itself can do without regular frost, if summers are not too warm. In cold temperate and subarctic climates, Swedish whitebeam can behave a little invasive, especially on fertile ground. Its seeds would  germinate everywhere, even on roofs, old rotten fence posts or in gaps or joints of buildings.

Marion Gabriela Wick lives on a secluded, 3.5-acre homestead in North Frisia, Germany where she guides tours to the European Wadden Sea National Park and the salt marshes located almost at her doorstep. She has been instrumental in protecting Wiedingharde Beach’s unique “fruity heritage” made up from thousands of wild and heritage fruit trees and shrubs growing along roads and trenches, around fields and farm houses, planted by generations of farmers trying to protect their cottages and grain fields from the regions very harsh weather conditions. Read more from Marion at The Fairies Garden and connect with her on Facebook. Read all of Marion’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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