Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Picking cloudberries in Estonia

After forageing for wild strawberries in Paluküla, we headed into the bog forest to look for cloudberries. Cloudberries are definitely one of my favourite berries - another berry strongly reminiscent of my childhood, and last August I breakfasted on delicious cloudberry & cream cheese yogurts, and I regularly stock up on cloudberry jam at my local IKEA store. Even if you're unfamiliar with the berry, you have probably heard of it. , the queen of nostalgic and sultry cookbooks, has a beautiful book called Falling Cloudberries - though I was somewhat puzzled by her choice of title - the cover image depicts cranberry sorbet and there isn't a single cloudberry recipe inside, just a brief mention on p. 69.

Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is a member of the rose family. It is also known as baked-apple berry, especially in Canada, although I'm not sure about this name - I can't see the similarity between baked apple - another great yogurt flavour! - and cloudberries; it is one of the species of salmonberries (probably called so for its colour and not for its taste!). They're related to raspberries, but taste anything but, being much more exquisite in flavour, with a slight hint of honey. Cloudberries grow on mossy and boggy land in the cold northern climates of Scandinavia (apparently very abundant in the bogs of Lapland, though I cannot confirm this myself. Yet.), Finland (where it even decorates the back of the 2 EURO coin), Estonia and other Baltic countries, Siberia and Canada, as well as near the Arctic Circle. As there is just one berry per plant and the growing area is very limited, they are rather costly. Certainly, cloudberry jam in IKEA costs thrice as much as other jams! Indeed, cloudberries are so costly that they can trigger wars among the usually calm Scandinavians: cloudberries are
"so valued in northern Scandinavia where Finland, Sweden, and Norway meet; the cloudberry has long been the cause of "cloudberry wars". These otherwise peace-loving countries have been known to become quite territorial when it comes time to harvest this berry, causing the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to develop a special section just for cloudberry diplomacy."
(Alan Davidson. 1999. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Just like looking for wild strawberries requires a good and attentive eye, forageing for cloudberries needs patience and a sharp vision. Here's what you do. You arrive at your secret cloudberry spot and look around. Carefully. Look at the various green-yellow bumps of grass on the ground, trying to spot a golden-pink berry amongst the dark leaves. Voilà! After spotting a berry, you go, bend your knees and pick it up, twisting the berry off its stalk. Stand up. Repeat. Very good exercise, both for the body and the mind!

As it's been a particularly dry and hot summer in Estonia this year, with temperatures reaching mid 30s Celsius, the bog was rather dry. This wasn't all bad, as it meant I could look for cloudberries without getting my toes wet. But it also meant that cloudberries were rare, and the ones that did exist, tended to be on the small side.

This was one of the few cloudberries in the bog that was ready for eating then and there. A ripe cloudberry is orange-yellow in colour, and very juicy. Pop these straight into your mouth.

This is another close-up of the cloudberry. Pretty, isn't it? This one is slightly underripe though (hence the reddish hue). You would have to leave it at room temperature for a few days to ripen. However, it is in the perfect stage for jam-making.

Again, between three of us we managed to collect a small glass of cloudberries, so no jam-making followed. Instead, we ate the ripe ones then and there, and left the rest on the kitchen table to ripen for a few days.

I had couple of my girlfriends over for a drink and some nibbles on my new balcony at my parents' house few days before my trip to the strawberry fields and cloudberry bogs. One of the canapes I served was inspired by this recipe from the Swedish Arla website. Very Nordic, slightly unusual and oh-so-tasty. Even the only man in the company (Siim Oskar, aged 10 months) had a few.

Rye bread canapés with blue cheese and cloudberry jam

cloudberry jam (I used Meie Mari murakamoos, but IKEA sells a decent one)
blue cheese (I used Dolcelatte)
crisp bread or rye bread

Cut the rye bread into small squares (4x4 cm), or break into similarly-sized pieces, if using crisp bread.
Spread with blue cheese and top with a small spoonful of cloudberry jam.
Garnish with small basil leaves or blue borage flowers (above).


Bonnie said...

Thanks for reminding me about the unique, delicious berry. I remember from my time in Finland how special they are. Thanks!

Anne said...

Oh, that sounds delicious! A great combination! And I happen to have everything I need for it :)

Alanna Kellogg said...

OH I sooo love cloudberries! I remember a yogurt w fruit on the bottom, very precious.

Kalyn Denny said...

A great post for WHB, and this is a plant I haven't heard of before. I wonder if they even grow here? Sounds delicious.

Anonymous said...

I have heard about these berries but I have never seen a picture of them before, thanks for sharing this!!

Anonymous said...

Issand, Pille, vaata kus me kokku saime! Lugesin Epppu plogi ja vaatasin, et Pille Edinburghist... Kas sa veel üldse mäletad mind? elan juba neli aastat Soomes koos toreda soome mehega. Varem olin tuntud nime all Müürsepp :) Ja veel mälu värskendamiseks c96II!!!

Valentina said...

Pille, Lovely post.Incidentally a friend who has been to Sweeden recently sent me an email arranging for us to have bkfast sunday and saying that she has got some cloudberries for me. I have never seen them before and had only ever seen them mentioned in Tessa Kiros book. ; o D

AnnaW said...

I had read of cloudberries (such a evocative name) but I have never tried them. I didn't know that each plant only produced one berry. Thanks for sharing your harvest with us! I will look out for the jam in IKEA, as I think that will be the easiest way to taste the fruit.

Joycelyn said...

hi pille, thanks for a gorgeous and informative post about cloudberries! i've neither seen one in the flesh nor eaten one - i'll be heading down to ikea to hunt down a jar of jam as soon as possible! i too wondered about the title falling cloudberries until i finally figured it had to be thanks to the author's finnish parentage

Saffron said...

Hi Pille, I visited your blog! I found it really good, thanks for the information about cloudberry: I ate the fruit, but I've never tasted the jam!

Anonymous said...

anne brought me some cloudberry jam when she visited last year - i had never heard of them before... but to me, any berry is a small wonder and miracle in itself, they tend to be perfectly formed, beautiful and very tasty, especially when picked in the wild!

Clivia said...

Oh I love cloudberries! The jam with waffles...aaah. Actually I have some in the fridge right now so maybe I will try your recipe with some Estonian rye bread... Thanks for great info, I didn´t know anything about cloudberries before except that they are rare and tasty. I have never seen any in the wild.

neil said...

My wife and I heard them mentioned on New Scandinavian Cooking and I asked her about them (she's from Poland), but she had never heard of them.I bet it was a poet that named them.

Have never seen the jam here but we do have Ikea so will check it out. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I've read about cloudberries before and have never tasted them. They sound lovely--as does your recipe.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille, i too wondered why the book was called 'Falling Cloudberries'. I wonder whether her new book 'Apples for Jam' have any apple jam recipe in it :)

I'm not very good with knowing the berries names if i ever come accross them. Glad you have posted a picture and named a few. Helps me a lot!

I wonder if cloudberries can be found in UK or even, Jersey! :)

Christine said...

What an informative post. Beautiful photos too. I guess I'll have to get my cloudberry jam from Ikea, as I know they don't grow here!
I enjoyed looking at your sight!

Anonymous said...

The famous cloudberries! That's how I "met" you because I'd asked a question about cloudberries on Melissa's blog (because of the cookbook name) and you were kind enough to answer. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Pille,

Thanks for broadening my culinary horizon again ;) Never tasted these little cuties, but - like J - I have to look out for this jam the next time I visit IKEA!

Pille said...

Bonnie - you're welcome! I've suddenly become more and more excited about moving back home to Estonia - partly because of the abundance of all those wild and 'exotic' berries there:)

Anne - did you try these canapes? I looked at your cloudberry souffle recipe - delicious!

AK - I imagine! They sell this yogurt with cream cheese and cloudberry jam back home - cannot wait to be able to regularly buy these again!

Kalyn - it might be difficult to find fresh berries, but cloudberry jam (or that Lapponia liqueur!) should be available..

Pam - you're very welcome. Next time you're forageing in the Nordic bog forests, then you know what to look out for:)

Maris - no muidugi ma mäletan Sind, põnev Sinuga siin blogosfääris kohtuda! Ma otsustasin peale pikka eksiilisolekut, et eesti mehed on ikka kõige etemad, nii et kolin oktoobris kodumaale tagasi:)

Valentina - did you meet up with your friend and eat some cloudberries? What did you think of them?

Anna - I was exaggerating when I said that each plant only produces one berry. There are separate male and female cloudberry blossoms, and they need to be cross-pollinated by insects & bees within a very few days. So only few plants would produce cloudberries each year. (My botany isn't very good, so apologies if I got the terminology badly wrong!)

J - hope you'll get to try some fresh cloudberries one day, though meanwhile the jam will have to do. The cloudberry liqueur I've mentioned (Lakka by Lapponia) is probably even closer for the real smell & taste.

Safron - welcome to my blog! Glad to hear that you've tried the real thing!

Johanna - maybe we should schedule your first visit to Estonia during mid- to late- summer, so we can take advantage of all the bounty?

Clivia - hey, how come I introduce Arla Sverige recipes to Swedish girls here?!? ;)

Neil - the English name - cloudberry- is very poetic indeed! I wish they'd call them 'pilvemari' in Estonian:)

Sher - definitely a berry to include to your must-try list!

Mae - Tessa does mention cloudberries briefly on page 69, but that's it. Haven't seen Apples for Jam yet, but I wonder indeed:) I doubt if you can find cloudberries in Jersey - way too south for them, but then you have Jersey cows and wonderful seafood to compensate for the lack of cloudberries..

Christine - thank you. My boyfriend took some of the pictures, so I cannot take all the credit:) I'm pleased to hear that you enjoyed my site!

Paz - I had totally forgotten about that exchange, but now I remember:) Well, it's been a pleasure to have met you!

Nicky - you're welcome, though I'm humbled that I've managed to broaden your culinary horizon, as usually it's the other way around! You just reminded me that I should try your panna cotta recipe soon. I wonder if it would work with some cloudberry liqueur instead? Mmmm...

Anonymous said...

I know where to get some cloudberry jam, but is it totally impossible to order cloudberries? Frozen perhaps? I live in the US and I'd love some for Christmas Eve! Darlene Ostrom Anderson

lobstersquad said...

o dear sweet heavens, bring on August NOW!!!

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Anonymous said...

I live in Newfoundland Labrador where we call these berries "bakeapples". Most think I am talking about baked apples so I have to show them the berries. We use them for jam, toppings for ice cream, cheese cakes and tarts. I also use them for a sauce to go with pork. They are considered "gold" here to anyone that really likes them because they are difficult to find and pick and because of this, they can be quite expensive to buy. But well worth it. My husband hides the jar so he can eat the jam by the spoonful!

Valerie said...

After a trip to Ikea in Belfats I got stuck in grid-lock traffic for an hour due to flooding in Dublin. I was sure I was going to be stuck there all night and then remembered the jar of Cloudberry jam i'd bought. I couldn't believe the taste, so unusual and uplifting, it really cheered me up. And I got home an hour later

Unknown said...

Check out another food blog: transplantedbaker. Siri writes about a jar of cloudberry jelly that she received as part of a jam/jelly exchange.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Newfoundland, Canada where we call them bakeapples not cloudberries. They are the same thing for sure. We pay around $40 dollars per gallon for these berries so we can have the jam all year round. The jam takes a nice time to simmer, do it in a double boiler and also, put in a chopped up pear without the skin, there won't be an aftertaste and you don't taste the pear. This is the season we all look forward to every year when it's berry picking time.

USANOR2010 said...

They are plentiful on the Alaskan tundra as well. They're called Salmonberries there by the local natives. =)

Pille said...

USANOR2010 - cloudberries and salmonberries are NOT the same berries (Latin names are 'Rubus spectabilis' for salmonberries and 'Rubus chamaemorus' for cloudberries). Apart from the colour, they also look quite different, if you look carefully :)

Anonymous said...


Infact what the Northern Alaskans refer to as salmonberries are indeed rubus chamaemorus. That's the problem with common names as they can lead to confusion.

Anyway, cloudberries are far from rare here and we can pick them easily by the gallon full unlike our more unfortunate European friends.

Pille said...

Dear Anon, thank you for your comment. I must admit that as I haven't seen a salmonberry myself, I must rely on popular (and often unreliable) sources like Wikipedia. Salmonberry and Cloudberry are different according to that one, and all salmonberry pictures that come up by Google Images are very different-looking from cloudberries as well (many more small components to each berry and very hairy as well :))

I'm lucky enough to be able to pick cloudberries by a gallon as well here in Estonia, even if I had to skip this year as it's a bit tricky with two small kids. Luckily, my mother-in-law picked and canned enough to take us through the winter..

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I was a bit brash at first. I live in an area where salmonberries and cloudberries overlap, so I pick both species of rubus being mentioned here.

I byfar favor cloudberries, since their flavor almost reminds me of an apricot or a peach perhaps. They grow in the muskeg meadows here in SE Alaska and on the tundra in the north. They are individual plants as pictured on your blog and have a single fruit.

Salmonberries on the other hand usually grow by roads, river banks, or avalanche shoots and are tall and create a massive hedge like blackberries can. Their colors are orange to red and are beautiful. Their flavor is more citrus like.

It's amazing that people living half a world away from eachother can appreciate the same beautiful foods. :)

BTW. Me and my partner are heading up to the lake cabi tomorrow to go pick cloudberries and enjoy the views.

LaineRB said...

I don't know who this family is, but they posted a video on youtube of them picking aqpiks(cloudberries) out on the muskeg in Alaska. It's quite beautiful there.