Saturday, 16 May 2009

Fruits of the Sky (Passion for Plants*)

*It can be a bit tricky navigating through the relatively new ABC website, and my fortnightly postings for Passion for Plants may be difficult to track down at times. They usually appear under the 'Gardening' topic, but sometimes under Simon Marnie's Weekend Show page.

The ABC's Martin Corben (who you may hear on air on 702AM occasionally - most recently standing in for Simon Marnie last weekend) does a great job tidying up my notes and sometimes adding a spicier title. On the morning I speak with Simon Marnie (e.g. today between 9-10 am), or sometimes a day or two in advance, Martin loads the story onto the ABC website.
Today's story hasn't made it on line yet so I'm posting an advance copy here. Maybe the ABC will be happy with me mirroring their page here on a regular basis. Or maybe not? I'll ask. But for now...the Cloudberry!

Fruits of the sky



This concocted image of a giant cloudberry is taken from www.uku.fi/northernberries

“Rare berries, gently ripened by long, light summer days and freshened by autumn mists are handpicked from the untamed Arctic wilderness to make Lapponia liqueurs.”
So says the label of my Cloudberry liqueur from Finland. It’s a distinctive flavour, and it goes well with The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (which includes a few references to this unusual drink).

Cloudberries would be well known to anyone from the far north of the globe, where they are eaten fresh or made into jams and liqueurs. Stewed cloudberries and lingonberries is a traditional Swedish dish.

Like blackberries, raspberries, and many other sorts of berries, cloudberries are a species of Rubus. In this case Rubus chamaemorus, with the species name translating roughly as the ground mulberry. In case you are wondering, lingonberries are also from the old north, but related to cranberries and blueberries, in the genus Vaccinium.

The cloudberry is best described as a rambling bramble, with usually amber coloured fruits. It grows in peat bogs, in the colder northern parts of Europe, Russia and North America. There are a few more southerly outposts in Germany and northern United States.

The plant itself is not so rare, but it’s difficult to harvest and there is a growing demand from countries such as Norway which imports up to 300 ton of cloudberries each year from Finland. To put this in perspective, yields from wild plants average about 20 kg per hectare. That is, not much.

To increase yields scientists are manipulating bogs to encourage more cloudberry plants, and selecting more productive varieties. Another big problem is that plants have either male or female flowers, but not both. ‘Hermaphroditic’ individuals are found occasionally but don’t breed true to type.

Cloudberries have a bit of a cult following it seems. Some people love to eat them. Others use Cloudberry for blog titles and software names. You can even find a picture of one on the Finnish two Euro coin.
Is it a fruit worth seeking out? Well the label of my liqueur bottle talks of “the aromatic character, wonderfully delicious flavours and enchanting scents of these berries…’ The liqueur certainly tastes good with Dostoevsky.

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