It was early July when I flew into Gander, Newfoundland, a small but famous airport that became home to 38 jumbo jets on 9/11. It’s an unassuming place with a lot of history.
The next morning, when sitting at breakfast, I noticed the menu featured many dishes with partridgeberries. I could order partridgeberry muffins, bread, pancakes, waffles, pies, or tarts. One could slather toast with partridgeberry jams and jellies.
What are Partridgeberries?
Partridgeberries are small red berries that grow abundantly in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I’d say they are a not-too-sweet cross between cranberries and blueberries. Scientifically a member of the Madder Family (Rubiaceae), partridgeberries are deeply rooted in the culture and cuisine of Newfoundland.
Having never heard of them, I was curious and began researching. I discovered that partridgeberries are also called mountain cranberries, cowberries, or lingonberries- at least, I knew the latter. They are indigenous to Newfoundland, as well as Scandinavia, and grow wild on small evergreen shrubs. Partridgeberries thrive in the cool and acidic soils of the region.
The fruit has a distinctive tart flavor that sets them apart from other berries. Their tartness makes them an excellent addition to sweet treats and savory meals, an accompaniment to dishes like moose and rabbit.
Making a Partridgeberry Pie
If you know me, you may recall that I love pie, so I was eager to taste a partridgeberry pie or tart. I’d miss the berry-picking season that typically begins in late summer and continues into the fall, but many of the berries are canned.
A Pie Class
It just so happens it was my lucky day. I got to take a pie-making class at the Barbour Living History Heritage Village in Newton, Newfoundland. This award-winning Heritage Center shows life from the perspective of 19th-century merchant traders.
The class began with the preparation of the crust for a small pie. We students hand-mixed softened margarine (or butter) and sugar until light and fluffy and then added an egg.
We combined the dry ingredients and added them to the creamed mixture and formed two balls – one larger than the other. We then pressed the big dough ball into a circular shape with a rolling pin. We fit it into the pie pan and later rolled out the remaining dough for lattice strips. This recipe is the easiest pie crust method I have ever used, and I’d encourage anyone to try it. I may never buy pre-made or frozen crust again.
To save time, our instructor had previously cooked the berries with added sugar until they formed a slightly thickened sauce. All the students did was pour the pie filling into pans and then weave the lattice strips into place.
The following crust recipe (known as Laurie’s Homemade Recipe) is what we used during the class, and I have tested it twice at home. It’s a keeper! The margarine makes a softer but slightly less flakey crust than one made with butter.
If you need an excuse for pie, partridgeberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that provide potential health benefits. But, needing no reason, I’ll remake it and recall the berries as a beloved part of Newfoundland’s food heritage.
Laurie’s Homemade Partridgeberry Tart Recipe
Compliments of the Barbour Living Heritage Village
½ cup margarine or butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
(I did not prepare this, but below is the recipe used by our instructor.)
4 cups of partridgeberries
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons cold water
1. Place berries and sugar in a pot and cook until slightly thickened and all the sugar has dissolved. (I might add some orange zest next time I make this.)
2. Cream butter and sugar. (We did this by hand.) Add egg.
3. Combine the flour and baking powder, and add this to the creamed mixture all at once.
4. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Do not overwork the dough.
5. Roll out the dough and place in an 8-inch pie pan, edges overhanging. Save some dough for the lattice topping.
6. Combine cold water and cornstarch until all the cornstarch is dissolved. Add this into the berry mixture while stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat.
7. Fill the pie shell with the berry mixture. Top with lattice strips. (Brush the lattice strips and crust with whisked egg, if you like.)
8. Bake at 375 degrees until the dough on top is golden, about 40 minutes.
Of course, this is a perfect pie to top with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!