Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Cloudberry blog.

A chunk of mid-October has broken loose and landed here, in mid-August, which is a little strange. Chicago über-weatherman Tom Skilling said in his Tribune column today (using Fahrenheit, since Celsius is for Euro-weenies): “An unprecedented chill gripped four Midwestern states, including Illinois, Tuesday. The day's 67(degrees) maximum here was the coolest daytime reading for an Aug. 10 since 1882…. The October-like reading missed that all-time record for the date by only one degree! [This sort of thing obviously excites Mr. Skilling.]

“This area hasn't experienced a chillier August daytime reading anytime in the past 10 years -- since a 66 (degrees) high on Aug. 9, 1994. And the chill's not over. Before Wednesday and Thursday pass, Chicago's predicted mid-60 (degrees) highs place records for chilliest daytime temps (each recorded in 1903) within reach.”

Then he trots out the dancing bear of weather comparisons, Alaska. By gar, it’s warmer in Alaska that than in Chicago! The sky is green and the grass blue! Wow! Usually, such comparisons are made sometime in January or February, when it’s around zero in Chicago but five above in Anchorage, but Skilling gives the Alaskan summer – enlivened by bad wildfires this year – its due.

“The weather couldn't be more different in south and central Alaska [he continues], where record warmth occurred Tuesday. The records included 77 (degrees) at King Salmon, normally swept by cool winds off the Bering Sea, 84 (degrees) at Juneau and 78 (degrees) in Anchorage.”

These cool days naturally turn my mind to arctic cloudberries. The pathways of my mind are twisty and eccentric, of course, but there’s a connection here. When my mother was visiting recently, one of the places we took her was Ikea, since there are none in San Antonio. She wasn’t overly impressed, but I was, since we went on a Thursday, and it wasn’t insanely crowded (only mildly crowded). Anyway, near the exit is a stock of Swedish foods, and on the shelves I saw something I’d never seen anywhere else: Cloudberry jam! Honest-to-God, made-in-Sweden cloudberry jam.

Back in 1994, Yuriko and I arrived in Helsinki in early October. It was already pretty cold, but we enjoyed the city and its delights, such as curious architecture, excellent saunas, and unfathomable varieties of pickled and cured fish. I had a guidebook that suggested that a good thing to do in Finland would be to rent an RV of some sort, drive north beyond Rovaniemi and the Arctic Circle, and look for wild arctic cloudberries. Maybe it’s that impossibly exotic-sounding name, or just the allure of the Arctic Circle. In any case it stuck me as an inordinately fine idea, but we weren’t inclined to do so in October. It still strikes me as an inordinately fine idea, and if I ever make it back to Helsinki in summer – or Oslo or Stockholm, for that matter – I couldn’t sit still till I’d done it.

So seeing cloudberries at Ikea touched a chord. My mother offered to buy me some, and I accepted, though I would have bought a jar myself, despite its relatively high price ($4 for 41.1 oz, or 400 g). Some label verbage: Hafi brand, manufactured by HAFI Hallands Fruktindustri AB, S-310 44 Getinge, Sweden. “The golden berry from northern Sweden. An arctic exclusive delicacy. A treat served with all desserts having whipped cream or as a warm topping on ice cream.”

Later, I looked for more information on these remote berries. From a web site called Innvista, which seems to be a resource for home schoolers. It took a little editing on my part to smooth it out, but I suppose it’s reasonably accurate: “Cloudberries are closely related to the raspberry and look like small golden blackberries, [but] their segments are much larger [and there are] fewer of them. They are often called salmonberries, but those are of a slightly different species.

“Cloudberries grow on boggy land in the cold northern climates of Scandinavia, Siberia, and Canada… and are one of the most delicious and costly of all berries because of their limited growing area. Because they lack warmth, the berries ripen slowly, allowing the flavour to develop to an extraordinary intensity and sweetness tasting almost like honeyed apples. Indeed, in Canada, cloudberries are often called "baked apple berries." The berries are golden when ripe and soft and juicy, making them difficult to transport, even if there were enough to do so. Although they are eaten raw, or frozen for later use, the favourite [use] is to make them into jam.

“They are highly prized in Scandinavian countries, where they are made into jams, fruit soups, and desserts. In fact, they 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.”

Cloudberry wars? The Scandinavian equivalent of soccer wars? Maybe not so bloody –- more like US v. Canada fishing wars, I figure. The jam, about half gone now, is in our refrigerator. It is indeed delicious.


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