Amalie and Eyolf had prepared a lovely dinner of reindeer meat, Brussels sprouts, and boiled potatoes to welcome me back to Norway, most of which whipped past my exhausted eyes and mouth in a dizzying blur. But the end of the meal, I remember vividly; smooth, sweet, silky cream whipped into a frenzy and filled with my very first real-life cloudberries.
The cloudberry is a bright, burning, mythic icon of Scandinavia. Droplets of sunset orange wrapped up in tiny clusters hiding throughout the mountainous countryside, wild as the Nordic winters. Multebær; bakeapple; viddas gull (highland gold); whatever you call these little orange gems, the Scandis just can’t get enough.
Rubus chamaemorus, as it is known binomially, grows naturally throughout the upper parts of the northern hemisphere. Although the plant has been known to appear in the British isles, the Baltic states, swaths of boreal North America, and a tiny enclave in two German valleys, it has managed to secure its most significant status by far in the Nordic countries.
The demand for cloudberries in Scandinavia (especially Norway) always exceeds the supply, and the plant has proven difficult to domesticate. Norway imports 200-300 tons of cloudberries every year from nearby Finland. They are so highly prized because they are so difficult to cultivate; how much do you fancy running off into the mosquito-infested bog for a few hours of back-breaking labor? (This description is how the Scandinavians scare you away from their favorite autumnal activity.)
Cloudberries thrive in bogs and marshes, as they require sunny exposure and acidic soil. The tiny plant can withstand temperature drops down to -40°C (samesies in Fahrenheit), but are not resistant to salty or dry conditions. The short (less than a foot high) stalks of the plant produce white flowers that transform into raspberry-sized berries. Each berry holds between five and 25 ‘drupelets’, which shift in color from a pale red to a deep amber by the time of harvest in early autumn. The female plants can take up to seven years to bear fruit, and do not do so every season.
So you can see, these little buggers are hard to come by. The air of exclusivity that surrounds the cloudberry may leave a buyer eager to obtain it having only briefly considered the reason for procuring it in the first place; taste.
The flavor is indeed unusual; a mix of sweet and sour with almost bitter undertones. The fruit is mostly juice surrounding one large, dense seed per drupelet, with a thin outer fiber. Due to the tartness of the fruit and the fragility of the skin, cloudberries are often made into jams, juices, or liqueurs to soften the blow with some added sugar. The taste and texture can be strange for the unaccustomed (read: American) tongue.
In Finland, the berries are often eaten with a local cheese called ‘Leipäjuusto’ and lots of sugar. One version of the Finnish 2-Euro coin is marked with the cloudberry fruit and leaves. In Norway, cloudberries and cream is a popular, if traditional, dessert. They are also eaten as an ice cream topping or in cakes; the key is to always add sugar, and usually cream.
The cloudberry is also a traditional food for Scandinavia’s native people, the Sami. Traditionally, they stored their berries in reindeer milk so fatty that it was able to preserve the berries (likely the origin of the Norwegians’ cloudberries and cream dish). The berries remain an important source of vitamin C for these northern people and their meat-rich diet.
On another particularly frigid February evening in the countryside of Trøndelag, I encountered the cloudberries again. This time, as a jam, since the high season for ripe berries was already a few months past. Jon Fredrik of Fannremsgarden served us cloudberries and a fresh milk pudding made from råmelk (colostrum), the first milk produced from a mother cow just after giving birth. The depth and fattiness of the milk pudding cut the tart acidity of the cloudberries; the harmony was pleasant, but sharp enough to keep you on your toes.
As you can see, we have chosen the cloudberry to serve as our own symbol here at Victus Nord. We believe this little orange berry represents well the objects of our mission:
• The hard-to-find ingredients (both literal and figurative) that make Scandinavia such a special place
• The cross-section between New Nordic cuisine and the ways of the old world
• And the sweet and rare reward that we believe comes only through the advent of hard work, intense research, and friendly faces to help you along the way.
The recipe I chose to make with cloudberries is probably one of the easiest ever, a deliciously creamy dessert named multekrem (cloudberries with whipped cream). Christmas, called “jul” in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, actually predates the Christianization of the Nordic country. As in a number of other countries, Christmas is celebrated throughout the month of December with numerous festivities!
Norwegian Christmas Eve dinner table usually withholds ribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs), or lutefisk (dried fish that has been lying in water and lye), depending on what part of Norway you’re from. Read more about Christmas the Norwegian way here!
But back to The Multekrem – one of the absolute classics among Christmas desserts in Norway. It’s likely that you’ll find it on most Norwegian tables at Christmas Eve. The cloudberry season is short, so Norwegians harvest while we can. Then we clean them before they are put in the freezer to be taken out and enjoyed on a suitable occasion. Many of us save at least one batch for the dessert on Christmas Eve.
It is a very easy dessert to make once you have the ingredients. It consists of whipped cream and sugar mixed with cloudberries and/or cloudberry jam. Easy as that, but crazy delicious!
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup cloudberry jam or 1 ½ cup of fresh cloudberries
Lemon balm or mint (for garnish)
1. Whip the cream with sugar and vanilla extract until soft peaks form.
2. Fold in the cloudberries and divide the dessert between small serving bowls.
3. Garnish with a couple of cloudberries (or a spoon of cloudberry jam) and a mint leaf/lemon balm
4. To make it truly authentic Norwegian – serve it with “krumkaker”.
5. Velbekomme! A true Nordic Christmas in one serving!
Thanks for joining us, we hope you find a cozy, wild home here.