Category Archives: Food Tales

Why Are Partridgeberry Pies in Newfoundland?

The pie-making class.
Students with their pies.

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.

Wild growing Partridgeberres

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.

Continue reading Why Are Partridgeberry Pies in Newfoundland?

A Juicy Mango Cake for Mango Season

As I take my morning walk in Sarasota, Florida, I pass mango trees ripe with fruit. At the end of July and  beginning of August, the mangos are in season –so mature they drop from the tree and litter the sidewalk. I picked one up, only slightly bruised, and decided to take it home. That got me inspired to bake.  

Unripened mangoes growing on a tree.
Unripe Mangoes on a Tree

If you’ve never tasted the golden- peachy stone fruit that bursts with sweet delicious pulp, buy one. Mangoes are high in Vitamin C and A. Mangos are so moist you’ll find juice dripping down your hands. I have heard the best way to eat a mango is naked!

A mango cut open showing the juicy mango flesh.
The golden orange inside of a ripe mango. (Photos Wikimedia Commons: Ivar Leidus)

My grocery stores generally sells two types of mangos. While the exact number of mango varieties  worldwide is uncertain, there are at least 500 and perhaps as many as 1,000.  Many of those grow in India. The mango is the national fruit of Pakistan, India and the Philippines. It is also the national tree of Bangladesh.

Champagne mangoes in a red bowl.
A Bowl of Champagne Mangoes

My favorite is the thin-skinned, more oblong variety I call a champagne mango (sometimes called honey mangos). They are yellow when ripened and the pit in the center is small compared to other type. The best part is that the flesh is very smooth, without fibers.

In the past, I’ve made mango pie and mango cobbler but never tried to bake a mango cake—until now. The Southern Living website published the following recipe, which I followed, baking the cake for my house guests. This recipe is a Bundt cake, but the texture resembles a moist carrot cake with golden raisins and walnuts, however without cream cheese frosting. My guests declared the dessert a winner, topping it with vanilla ice cream. Why not try it for yourself and see?  

A baked Mango Bundt Cake
My Mango Bundt Cake (Photo by Debi Lander)


If you don’t know how to cut a mango, here is a YouTube video that explains the process in great detail.

How to Cut and Dice a Mango: 

And if you are interested, here’s a link to 13 Juicy Facts about Mangoes:

Recipe for Mary’s Mango Cake from Southern Living

Mango Cake is full of fruit and nuts.
Looking inside the Mango Cake.



•       4 large eggs

•       1 cup granulated sugar

•       1/2 cup vegetable oil

•       1/2 cup honey

•       2 cups all-purpose flour

•       2 teaspoons baking powder

•       2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

•       1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

•       1/2 teaspoon baking soda

•       2 cups diced fresh mango (from 1 mango)

•       1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

•       1/2 cup golden raisins

•       1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 orange)

•       2 teaspoons lime zest (from 2 limes)


•       1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar

•       1 teaspoon orange zest plus 1⁄4 cup fresh juice (from 1 orange)

•       1/2 teaspoon lime zest plus 2 tsp. fresh juice (from 1 lime)


1.      Prepare the cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil and flour a 14-cup Bundt pan. Beat eggs in bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Beat in sugar until combined; then beat in oil until combined. Gradually beat in honey.

2.      Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture, ½ cup at a time, to egg mixture, beating just until blended after each addition. Stir in mango, nuts, raisins, orange zest, and lime zest. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3.      Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Remove to a wire rack, and let stand in pan 10 minutes.

4.      Prepare the Topping: While the cake stands in the pan, stir together powdered sugar, orange and lime zest, and orange and lime juice until combined. Invert cake onto a plate. Drizzle Topping evenly over warm inverted cake. (Or make a glaze, stirring together about 1 cup sifted powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice; pour over cooled cake.) I think I used too much juice in my glaze because it was runny. Tasted good, however. 

5.      Serve with or without ice cream. 

Learning about Controversial Kopi Luwak Coffee in Bali

While touring and photographing the lush rice terraces in Bali, I saw a nearby coffee plantation. I decided to stop to learn more about Bali’s controversial kopi luwak coffee.

Taste Testing Kopi Luwak coffee in Bali.
A Cup of Kopi Luwak Coffee Served to me in Bali

I first heard about this outlandish java from one of my favorite movies, the 2007 film The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Nicholson plays an obnoxious billionaire who only drinks the exotic brand. He carries his stock of kopi luwak everywhere he goes and even takes a portable brewing station to ensure a fresh cup of kopi luwak wherever and whenever he wants it. Nicholson’s character calls it the “rarest coffee in the world,” indeed, it is the most expensive brew in the world. So, what makes it so extraordinary? 

What is Kopi Luwak coffee?

Red berries or coffee berries growing in Bali.
Coffee Cherries Growing on a Coffee Plantation in Bali.

Kopi Luwak is a famous (and somewhat disreputable) Indonesian coffee that has been digested by an animal called an Asian palm civet. The civet, a cat-like creature, roams the forests of Bali at night, eating ripe coffee cherries. But only the outer pulp is digested while the coffee beans pass through the animal’s digestive tract intact. After being expelled, the beans are collected, thoroughly washed, and meticulously processed to remove any remaining impurities. This process, coupled with the enzymes and fermentation during digestion, contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor and smoothness.

The History of Civet Coffee

Civets are cat-like animals that love coffee cherries.
A Civet in a Cage on the Coffee Plantation

The history of civet cat coffee or cat poop coffee goes back to the 1700s when the Dutch first set up coffee plantations in Sumatra and Java. According to legend, the locals noticed wild animals were eating the ripe coffee cherries (the stone fruits that grow in bunches on the coffee plant). They digest the cherries and excrete the beans. At the time, the plantation workers were prohibited from harvesting coffee beans for themselves, so they started brewing their drinks from these discarded beans.

Why Would You Drink Kopi Luwak?

Coffee connoisseurs seek it because wild animals will only eat the best, ripest cherries, so you don’t end up with inferior, unripe beans. The enzymes in the civet’s digestive system alter the coffee beans, producing a smoother cup of coffee.

How Does the Process Work?

Coffee Beans Excreted by Civets to Make Luwak Coffee.

The cherries get entirely stripped of their fruity exterior while passing through a civet’s stomach, giving them an extensive washing process. The workers then peel off any remaining skin, and the beans are ready for drying and later roasting. Without any fruit pulp left on the bean, mold doesn’t grow, resulting in a better cup of coffee.

Cleaned coffee beans before roasting
Washed and Cleaned Coffee Beans now Ready for Roasting.

Taste Testing

When I toured the plantation, more of a family compound, I saw a few civets in cages. The guide explained that they were only there so we could see the animals. 

Next, we stopped to see examples of the beans at various stages of the process. Then, we sat down to taste various locally grown tea and coffee blends. The guide collected an additional fee from those tasting luwak. 

A sampler of coffee blends.
Tasting a Variety of Coffee Blends

Naturally, I decided to take a taste test while I was there. I admit I was skeptical, but the coffee was one of the smoothest, low acid, and most flavorful cups I have ever tried. I liked it, but did NOT buy any to bring home. 

Luwak Coffee being brewed at a coffee plantation
Brewing Luwak Coffee at the Coffee Plantation in Bal

What’s the Problem with Civet Coffee?

The problem with kopi luwak coffee is that it’s rarely actually wild. As you can imagine, a plantation that relies on free-range civets would be unpredictable. Finding and collecting the excreted beans in the forest becomes a labor-intensive task and therefore is cost prohibitive for a business. 

As a result, the most common production involves removing civets from the wild and keeping them in tiny cages on coffee plantations – in other words, an unethical form of animal abuse. Many coffee plantations don’t comply with animal welfare standards for hygiene, shelter, and mobility. The civets may also be force-fed the cherries. If the civets are kept on restrictive coffee-only diets, that may lead to malnutrition and other health problems.

Wire cages keep civets from roaming free.
A Civet in a Wire Cage

The Dark Side of Coffee

The consumer must also be wary as much of the coffees sold as kopi luwak isn’t authentic. With incredibly high prices for this specialty product,  expect sellers to cash in by labeling unauthentic merchandise. I saw a 3.52-ounce pack of kopi luwak selling for $116.99 on Amazon. That amounts to a whopping $530 per pound.  

Recommendations call for buyers to look for ethical sourcing and responsible producers. However, I think that would be difficult to determine.

To learn more I recommended reading:  Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee

Paperback – May 2, 2019

by  Antony Wild  (Author)