Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cloudberry Kiss (oil on canvas, 6 x 6 in.)

8 July found me finding Cloudberries with a woman who grew up picking them in this bog by the Gooseberry Road, near Musquash, New Brunswick.

I find the internal yellow glow and the external rosy blush of these berries fascinating - and yes, the druplets are shaped like little valentines. I wasn't making it up!

As the bog opens out from the forest, it looks the same as most other bogs, hummocky and bushy, with scattered stunted Tamaracks and Spruces - rather bowl-shaped, with the shortest trees towards a the centre, and with islands of taller vegetation. Cotton Grass bobs and
blows its white tufts above the surface and gives the whole bog a lively twinkle.

Hackmatack - that's what Tamarack is called by New Brunswickers, Charlotte told me, as I photographed an Arethusa bulbosa Orchid bloom in a setting of hoary Gray Tamarack twigs low against a hummock of moss and Cloudberry, which Charlotte calls by its local name of Juneberry. Also, Saskatoon is called Huckleberry here, and it's berries are blushing now. Charlotte says they will be ripe and blue at the same time as the Blueberries.

Leatherleaf is the dominant shrub in this bog, and comparatively little Labrador Tea, but what I saw of it was blooming in a starry froth of dainty white flowers. There are two kinds of Orchid blooming, both pink. Arethusa bulbosa is called "Dragon's Mouth".  It has a streaked and ruffled 'lower jaw'.  Calopogon pulchellus, Grass Pink Orchid seems to hold its blooms upside down, with the bearded part upward. 

It seems that everything is either blooming or fruiting. I rove about with my camera like a kid in a candy shop. I can't decide whether I'll paint a flamboyant pink orchid or a forest of tall, sculptural Pitcherplant flowers, or a slender taffy coloured mushroom in a setting of red Sphagnum framed with the white lace of Cladonia lichen. Every few steps leads me to a fresh, intimate bog scene more deliciously coloured and detailed than the last. I could do twenty paintings here in this magnificent place - truly the most beautiful bog I've ever seen - and it's crowning glory are the Cloudberries!

This is some of what Wikipedia says about Cloudberry, with a little added by me: Rubus chamaemorus (Greek chamai "on the ground", moros "mulberry") is a rhizomatous herb native to alpine and arctic tundra and boreal forest, producing amber-colored edible fruit similar to the raspberry or blackberry. English common names include Cloudberry, Bakeapple (in Atlantic Canada), Knotberry & Knoutberry (in England), and Averin & Evron (in Scotland).

The Cloudberry grows to 10–25 cm high. The leaves have 5 or 7 soft, handlike lobes on straight, branchless stalks. After pollination, the white (sometimes reddish-tipped) flowers form raspberry-sized berries. Encapsulating between 5 and 25 drupelets, each fruit is initially pale red, ripening into an amber color in early autumn.

Cloudberries occur throughout the Northern Hemisphere from 78°N, south to about 55°N, and very scattered south to 44°N mainly in mountainous areas. In Europe and South Asia, they grow in the Nordic countries and the Baltic states and across northern Russia east to the Pacific Ocean. Small populations are also found further south, as a botanical vestige of the Ice Ages; it is found in Germany's Weser and Elbe valleys, where it is under legal protection, and rarely in the moorlands of Britain and Ireland. In North America, Cloudberries grow wild across most of northern Canada, Alaska, northern Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, and there is a small population on Long Island, New York.

The Cloudberry can withstand cold temperatures down to well below -40°C, but is sensitive to salt and to dry conditions. It grows in bogs, marshes and wet meadows and requires sunny exposures in acidic ground (between 3.5 and 5 pH).

Despite its modern demand as a delicacy exceeding supply (Norway imports 200 - 300 tonnes of Cloudberries per year from Finland) the Cloudberry is primarily a wild plant. Since the middle of the 1990s the Norwegian government has vigorously pursued the aim of enabling commercial production of various wild berries, and beginning in 2002, selected cultivars have been available. The Cloudberry can be cultivated in Arctic areas where few other crops are possible, for example along the northern coast of Norway.

The ripe fruits are golden-yellow, soft and smooth, and are rich in vitamin C. When eaten unripe, cloudberries have a distinctive tart taste. When over-ripe, they become very sweet, with a flavour like baked apple. They lose their pink blush and are so tender and delicate that they cannot be transported intact. You can spread them over bread as an uncooked jam. Unripe Cloudberries are often made into jams, juices, tarts, and liqueurs. In Finland, the berries are eaten with heated "leipäjuusto" cheese, as well as lots of cream and sugar. In Sweden, Cloudberries and Cloudberry jam are used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, and waffles. In Norway, they are often mixed with whipped cream and sugar to be served as a dessert called "Multekrem" (Cloudberry cream), as a jam or as an ingredient in homemade ice cream. They may also be added to cakes that often contain marzipan.

In Atlantic Canada, Cloudberries are used to make "Bakeapple Pie". Canadians also use them for jam, but not on the same scale as Scandinavians. In Alaska and Northern Canada, the berries are mixed with seal oil, reindeer or caribou fat (which is diced up and made fluffy with the seal oil), and sugar to make "Eskimo Ice Cream" or Akutaq. The recipes vary by region. Along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, white fish along with shortening and sugar is used.

In Nordic countries liqueurs such as Lakkalikööri are made of Cloudberry. It has a strong taste and a high sugar content. Cloudberry has also served as a spice for akvavit. A Cloudberry liqueur known as chicoutai, the local aboriginal name for the Cloudberry, is made in northeastern Quebec.

Due to its high vitamin C content, the berry is valued both by Nordic seafarers and by the Inuit as protection against scurvy. Its benzoic acid content acts as a natural preservative. Tea made from Cloudberry leaves was used in ancient Scandinavian herbal medicine to cure urinary tract infections.


Dear patrons and supporters,

This is the last of a series of paintings of the Musquash Estuary Natural Area, where we explored forest, marshes and shores protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It is available for $$325. If you would like to purchase it, please contact me.


2 comments:

  1. Oh, what a delicious post, Aleta. well, maybe not the seal oil, reindeer or caribou fat.
    Beautiful painting, and I'd love to try cloudberries if I ever run across them some day.
    K

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  2. Tamarack and "Hac[k]matack" (along with wikipedia's "mackmatack" are different pronunciations of the Algonquin name for Larix laricina, and "Hac[k]matack" isn't just used in the Maritimes (I learned it from the 1903 Connecticut book 'New England Trees in Winter'), though it seems to be more widely used there. I like 'Trees of Canada's comment: "occurs in every province and territory of Canada."

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