Over in Iceland, wild food is alive and well — at least in the gift shops.

The hubby and I just got back from a belated honeymoon of sorts. We packed up the backcountry gear, flew to Reykjavík, rented a 4×4, and spent two weeks wandering and camping around the country. (Okay, okay, there were a few nights in nice cozy hotel beds mixed in there.)

Somewhere between double-takes at the scenery and spit-takes at the price of a pint, I managed to nibble on some of the flora and take a gander at how it’s used in local restaurants and packaged foods.

My impression: Iceland, like many places in the “developed world,” is currently in a revival phase when it comes to wild foods and traditional foodways. Although it’s spearheaded by small producers, they are without a doubt being spurred on by the massive influx of hungry, curious tourists that the country has welcomed in recent years.

This revival is also getting nudged along by a crew of fledgling craft breweries and distilleries, some of which — like Reykvajík Distillery and Borg — show a fantastic eagerness to explore wild ingredients. From nice safe stuff like bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) to more challenging additions like Arctic thyme (Thymus praecox subsp. arcticus) and malt smoked over the shit of Icelandic sheep. (FYI: Didn’t try it. But only because a single bottle was 3,000 króna, not because I wasn’t intrigued.)

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Respectin’ the pectin (and playing with pâte de fruit)

Traditional pâte de fruits have a lot going for them. Namely, they’re made with a high proportion of fruit, which translates into complex and often intense flavour that retains much of the character of a particular harvest.

That said, they aren’t my go-to jelly candy. As I went on and on about in my last post, they’ve got a few big things working against them.

  • Sweating. It isn’t just about aesthetics. Sweating leads to crustiness, sugar crystallization, and can contribute to spoilage from too much water activity.
  • Flabbiness. Traditional pâte de fruit is very tender, to the point of basically blowing apart in your mouth with zero resistance. After two bites, I think it can get pretty gross.
  • Jamminess. Cooked flavours are great in the right context (yay, pie). But heat destroys fresh, bright flavours and tends to erase the distinctions between different harvests, cultivars, or wild strains.

And yet, I’m not ready to give up on pâte de fruits. It’s still great stuff, and there’s definitely a kind of romance to the idea of cooking down little else but fruit and sugar and, ta-da, out comes candy.

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On pâte de fruits (and the trouble with pectin)

Oh, pâte de fruits. I love ya, you big sweet sticky blob — I really do.

You’ve managed to claw your way up near the top of the sugar confectionery pyramid, where you breath the same rarified, Frenchified air as calissons and Bar-le-duc jelly.

You can be found taking a place of pride on the mignardises plate alongside the usual truffles and petits fours — the sole candy deemed worthy of doing so by the types of restaurants that need words like mignardise.

Pretty damn good for a something that started life as overcooked jam.

But, let’s be honest here. As a single, sweet, intense morsel at the end of a fatty meal, you’re aces. As a candy, though, you could use a bit of work.

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