November 08, 2010

Sweet and Sour Home: Winter Fruit Salad with Sea Buckthorn

I got busy paging through the November issues of Russian food magazines: how to draw a wild duck, roast a leg of goat and make sense of Norwegian salmon.. Russian winter diet can easily starve a vegetarian. There are good news though: November frosts are just right time to harvest sea buckthorn, sour orange in color berries that are a fantastic source of vitamins so needed in winter. So we went picking wild sea buckthorn..

Sea Buckthorn on a Palm
Every time when I come back to Russia I complain about food: I miss the diet I had at a place I used to stay before, I can't understand why supermarkets sell and people buy pears and tomatoes with no smell or taste, and I hate Moscow dining for the ridiculous prices, lack of service and complete refusal of the most chefs to use ingredients of decent quality. In my home town (a little place in Central Russia with the population of 700k) I invariably find out I urgently need ruccola or ginger root and then for days I am trying to catch a sight of them with no luck. I know I am difficult when it comes to food. Ok, I am just difficult.

Yet interestingly enough ..with all my skepticism.. each time back to Russia I find something good to eat and get reasonably happy. During this visit to my home town I discovered a jar of sea buckthorn syrup in the fridge of my parents. The guys have been on a winter-preparation spree and were stocking up with dry plants, frozen vegetables and preserved berries. Apparently, my dad adopted raw eating almost a year ago and now has a great interest to anything that wildly grows in the woods. They told me how they discovered an area close to the Volga river where the wild sea buckthorn grows (as the tree likes sandy soils) and made a trip there to pick up some berries. I knew we are going to make another sally there very soon.

Sea Buckthorn Sauce

 I love sea buckthorn! It really is a gift of nature to the people living in the cold climates. The very color of the berries - bright orange - is like a glimpse of sun that cheers you up on a gloomy day. They have distinctive sour taste yet the sourness can be easily neutralized with sugar or honey if you really want to take advantage of the vitamins the berries have. Sea buckthorn is a great source of vitamin C: with 200-600 mg of vitamin C in 100 g fresh berries it is rivaling rosehip (600 mg in 100 g) - just a few spoons of the berries will cover the recommended daily intake of this vitamin (45-95 mg/day). Besides that sea buckthorn is rich in vitamin E and organic acids. The seeds are used to make oil that has a bunch of healing effects too. I remember how at the age of 9 I was trying to be a good girl who helps mom with ironing and at some point I ironed myself a bit. I still remember a huge bubble of the skin on my hand and the smell of sea buckthorn oil that my mom immediately applied on the burn saying, "It will heal before your wedding" (usual thing to say in Russia).  The burn is long healed and the wedding got lost somewhere on the way. Even the all-healing sea buckthorn oil is helpless when it comes to my stubbornness.

No wonder that such a treasure as sea buckthorn is hard to get: the berries grow very densely on a branch, they are strongly attached and the branches have little thorns making it more difficult to access the berries without being pricked. Ideally you need to plan harvesting right after the frosts so you can shake the tree and the berries will fall off on a cloth spread on the ground. Yet the most common way is to cut branches and then pick up the berries from them. This is what we did: armed with gloves, large pruning scissors and a cotton sack we collected some little branches covered with berries. We were careful to pick up only a few short branches from a single tree as removing the entire branch reduces the future crops. What was waiting for us at home was sitting down with the harvested branches and removing the berries with the manicure scissors: no need to say that while my dad lead the harvesting it was my mom who took over removing the berries. Men, and their great plans..that always take a backup of a woman to get accomplished fully. 

Sea Buckthorn
As the sea-buckthorn harvesting was done we drove to the Volga shore to walk on the sandy beach and marvel the vastness of the magnificent Russian river. With time I got to understand why I felt so happy living by a Norwegian fjord or taking a ferry across the Bosphorus in Istanbul. I grew up in a town located on the two banks of the Volga (look it up, it is the longest river in Europe, by the way) so from the childhood I got the idea that any living space...however urban... should be dominated by the vastness of a large water basin. It gives you a whole new dimension, a getaway from the man-created geometry and craziness of the organized existence. Probably this is why I was never completely happy when living in Moscow or Copenhagen as the rivers and channels there are rather decorative and could not give you the sanity of a large river. Every time I am back to my home town..even if only for a few days..I take a walk along the Volga shore with my parents to chat, to play with waves, to examine the sand, to take photos, to contemplate, and to feel ultimate belonging. 

And I actually prefer the Volga by winter when beach is wide, sand is wet yet firm to walk on, colors are pale, people are few and the whole feel is stern. 
Volga River by Winter

Volga, sea buckthorn - and, have I mentioned there are no bears walking on the streets as they all got to  the hibernation? Winter is just the right time to come to Russia. Pack warm clothes and this winter fruit salad recipe. 

From Russia with Warmth: Fruit Salad with Sea BuckthornWinter Fruit Salad with Sea Buckthorn Recipe
Winter in Russia (and elsewhere) becomes more cheerful with this fruit salad of common fruits available in winter garnished with the fresh sea buckthorn and seasoned with the sea buckthorn sauce.

Ingredients (4 servings):

4 large clementines
4 apples (or easily pears)
4 bananas
4 tbsp fresh sea buckthorn
4 tbsp walnuts
4 tbsp fresh sea buckthorn juice
1 tbsp fresh ginger root juice
4 tbsp honey (buckwheat or chestnut recommended)
ground cinnamon to taste


1. Prepare the fruits: Peel the clementines, break into segments and remove the white pith and seeds; cut the applies into thin segments, slice the bananas, and quarter the whole walnuts. Tip: you may want to have your clementines and applies chilled and bananas at room temperature - this would give a nice play of textures on your tongue - crunchy and soft, warm and cold.
2. Make the sauce: Squeeze juice of the sea buckthorn by placing them in a sieve and pressing them with a wooden spoon so the juice comes in a bowl you will place under the sieve. Grate the ginger root and squeeze juice out of it with your hand. Mix in the the two juices, add honey and cinnamon and mix well. Tip: if the honey is not liquid enough you can still mix it in with more patience and effort - the acid in the juices will eventually dissolve honey.
3. Make the salad to serve: Mix the fruits with the sauce, cover, shake well for a few seconds - and enjoy! A glass of rose or Soviet sparkling wine to go with this salad would not be a sin: the summer is over only according to the calendar.

3 Responses to Sweet and Sour Home: Winter Fruit Salad with Sea Buckthorn:

Anonymous said...

Hi Olga,
Thanks to you I learned something new from your Blog the “sea buckthorn” it is quite interesting seaberry. Do you happen to know any cake or tart with sea buckthorn also I also in any baking recipes.
Looking forward to your next Blog and good continuation.

stephen said...

Although I have never tasted either one, I'd love to try making them. They look wonderful:)

Olga Tikhonova said...

M: thanks for pulling my leg - you are perfectly aware of the fact that I also made a wonderful tart of sea buckthorn however could not manage its presentation to grace this blog yet. Once I succeed, I'll share the recipe) and the photos)

Stephen: ...and very healthy too) Thanks for visiting.

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