Folle des Baies

December 7, 2007 at 1:08 pm | Posted in food, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Okay, I know I used to blog about all the art and food and spectacle Paris has on offer, but it seems that from now on, this blog is going to be devoted exclusively to cranberries.

I swear, I never meant for this to happen, but the tart red berry has invaded my consciousness and now it seems to pop up all the time, no matter how hard I try to shove it back into its Thanksgiving category. It turns out that, with this post, I opened one hell of a can of… berries.

Or canneberge, you might say, if you were using the French word for cranberry. Or, alternatively, airelles… the other French word for cranberry.

Except, which of these words really means cranberry? Or in fact, do either of them?

The cranberries I bought at Bon Marche were definitely what I think of as cranberries, and their package described them as airelles. And those were the cranberries I used to construct my successfully unsweetened Magret de Canard aux airelles:

Duck aux Airelles

Then last night, we were having a quiet dinner Au Vieux Moulin, and I noticed the evening’s special was Biche aux airelles — venison with cranberries. Well, of course I was overtaken by a desire to compare their cranberry sauce to mine, not to mention have my first venison of the season. But this is what I got:

Biche aux airelles et confit d'oignons

It was delicious, but you can clearly see here that these are not cranberries. Furthermore, they didn’t taste like cranberries — they were not so much tart as aromatic and vaguely peppery. But if airelles aren’t cranberries, what are they?

Those of you with long memories may recall that this is not the first time this question has come up on this blog. Nearly a year ago, I posted about Cranberry-flavored Yop, at which point I observed that the French must not have a word for cranberries, since the good people at Yop had called them, simply and inelegantly, “cranberries”.

But I was immediately corrected in the comments section: “cranberries are known as airelles!” decreed one reader. “No, canneberges!” objected another. And then the second reader again: “actually, maybe the canneberge is a kind of airelle?”

It turns out that might be more or less correct — because not only is the word airelles used to describe cranberries… it also can mean, of all things, blueberry! And blueberries, of course, are also variously known as bluets or myrtilles! Which puts me in mind of the long-standing battle I have with Brumaire over lingonberries and groseilles — I say they are one and the same berry, also known as red currants, he declares that they are all quite different. And some people suggest (inevitably, it now seems), that the lingonberry is in fact a kind of cranberry — after all, the lingonberry is known also as a mountain cranberry or lowbush cranberry, not to mention a foxberry, cowberry and a partridgeberry.

Okay, so now I feel I’m going completely insane. So many berries! So many words! Can anyone sort this out? Or should we take the usual French approach and sidestep the issue by referring to them all as “fruits des bois“?


1 Comment

  1. Because I have spent far too much time reflecting upon cranberries over the years:

    “Canneberge” is indeed the French word for cranberries. However, it is Quebecois, because cranberries only grow in North America — therefore, Europe has only learned of their existence in a very recent past. The French Quebecois word has not yet been adapted into the language.

    Airelles are the European cousin of cranberries.

    “Cranberry” is, in my opinion, a marketing term more than anything else!

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