Backyard foragers cross a line in the name of Norway’s prized fruit.
|The lone cloudberry. Photo by MaryAnn Nøbben|
In Norway, cloudberries (multer in Norwegian) do get talked about, though discussion is almost exclusively about the delicious end products derived from the fruit. Cloudberries have a fairly large seed — rather like raspberries, but bigger — and a unique flavor, unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Traditionally they are picked, frozen, and saved for a special dish or two at Christmas.
The source and location of the berry bogs is, however, a very well-kept and highly-protected secret! You see, cloudberries don’t grow just anywhere. They’re found only at high altitudes, in boggy conditions with insulating snows that protect and nourish them through the winter. Furthering their treasured status is the fact that each plant has only one flower, producing a single berry on a single stem. And though there may be plenty of plants, there are not always plenty of berries. Near wars break out over pillaging of berries from bogs, and I think maybe some Norwegians have emigrated just to escape revenge for such thievery! (Well, maybe not, but who knows? We’re talking serious stuff here!)
|Cloudberry flower. Photo by MaryAnn Nøbben|
Cloudberries are one of the few berries that can be picked while still unripe, and they will ripen to full flavor within a day or two. This allowed a local thief to greedily pick the bog clean, leaving not a single berry for Nils. The berry bandit’s identity was no secret — he was a man married to a local girl, who now lived down in Oslo but returned to his cabin sporadically on weekends. He was even brazen enough to leave his bike in plain view while he picked! To add insult to injury, Nils was forced to listen to a neighbor (a relative of the man’s wife) wax eloquent about the delicious cloudberry jam this couple gave to her each Christmas. Norwegians aren’t good at confrontation, so Nils never said a word.
|Photo by MaryAnn Nøbben|
By then, my Norwegian was coming along nicely and, though I hadn’t yet gotten to the chapter on swear words or expressing anger, I knew enough to understand as the thief explained cheekily that there were a few, but not many berries to be had — a statement refuted by the number of full buckets he had. Well, I may not have had the language to express myself, but I had been a kindergarten teacher for many years and there are certain things that can be communicated without words. Any kindergarten child — and berry-stealing neighbor — knows what “the look” means when they have been caught doing something naughty and I gave him “the look” in spades! He blushed nicely as he began to back up, feigning nonchalance by whistling under his breath as he made his way to the water’s edge where his wife was waiting at the oars of their getaway boat.
Needless to say, we didn’t have any berries for the delicious cloudberry cream at Christmas that year, but I can tell you it was the last Christmas that our neighbor enjoyed the jam she’d come to expect! Since then, I’ve gotten pretty good at making cloudberry jam myself, and I’ve discovered a favorite way to enjoy cloudberries: cloudberry liqueur, a treat I love to take home to the States, where they may not know what a cloudberry is, but they know what tastes good.
|Photo by MaryAnn Nøbben|
MaryAnn Nøbben lives in Norway with her husband Nils, where she grows gardens that are regularly featured in Storey’s Bloom Day posts. She is the sister of Storey’s Production Director, Caroline Burch.