Do as the bear – eat healthy berries!
Just like us humans the bear is an omnivore. It lumbers around and is basically eating all the time from the moment it arises from its winter hibernation in April till it’s time again for that long sleep in late autumn. Almost half of the bears food consumption consists of – berries!
So, hand on your heart, how much berries do you eat?
The fact that a large animal like the bear eat far more berries, plants and ants compare to the amount of meat they consume give a huge indication of the nutritional value of their intake. Let’s stay out of the argument about the ants. Here and now it is enough to confirm that ants are a fantastic source of protein. Enough said about that.
Berries are still considered by many as a fresh condiment to a dessert, however here in the north cloudberries, lingonberries and blueberries have always been a natural part of our diet.
The Midnight sun boost the berries
The Arctic summer is short with the sun shining just about all day and all night long for a couple of months. Even if the growing season is short the amount of plant “growing” hours are many. The light from the Midnight sun acts as a ”fertiliser” and everything grows at the speed of a rocket. Plants are growing higher, colours get more intense, the berries become sweeter and more aromatic, hence richer in vitamins. With the light so intense, even at night, it hardly gives nature a chance to take a breath. It is all about time; must hurry to make the flower and create the fruit before the frost is back again.
Karin creates taste sensations
Karin Nordström at Jokkmokksbär runs a small scale berry enhancement processing business. Not only does she press the berries to create juices she is also utilising the leftovers from that process and makes lovely jams, marmalades, syrups and other goodies. As she has always been interested in handicraft of the more traditional kind the transition into Artisan food was easy.
- I can get as nerdy as I want. I believe it’s about making something with my hands, something visual, to create and to keep on developing something new, says Karin.
It’s not at all wrong to speak about taste sensations. Her Messaure-glögg made with Kråbär (Crowberries) and raspberries won Gold at the Swedish Championship in Artisan Food, as did her Cloudberry marmalade.
The Golden Cloudberry
The cloudberry is the gold of the mires. The berries only grow here in the north and can be picked on the mires/mores for about a month from the middle of July. However, it’s sweaty work. To walk the wet mires on a hot summer’s day when the mosquito population is at its highest peak is no fairytale. What’s worst is that you can’t be sure to fill your bucket. If the pre-season’s been too cool to get the pollinating insects going, or if the frost has nipped the sensitive cloudberry flowers in the bud, the cloudberry season may come to a standstill all together.
Cloudberries in all shapes and sizes is by far Jokkmokksbärs best seller.
- In Sweden we think the cloudberry is the queen of berries whereas people from other countries may not be as keen on them. Quite often it’s the pips in each of the little berries that put people off, says Karin.
Once upon a time these tart yet nice berries were regarded to have healing properties such as stopping internal bleeding and to help cure all kind of ailments including scurvy, pulmonary and kidney problems. Today it’s known the berries contain an array of vitamins, trace elements and other food properties. Cloudberries contain a third more vitamin C than oranges, vitamins B and E as well as fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6. These little creatures are also very high in fibre as the berries are made up of several little individual stone-fruits clustered together into one.
The fact that the cloudberry today is considered to have strong properties to strengthen the immune system and to stop ageing is a good enough reason to get out there on that cloudberry mire. Simply warm up some cloudberries and pour onto homemade vanilla ice-cream, or if you prefer have it with a piece of melting camembert, tastes like heaven! In any case, should you get onto a cloudberry mire during your hike, just do like Nalle (the bear) – scoff them till your full!
The sweet captivating Blueberry
The Blueberry grows all over Sweden but it is of course more nutritious and more full of vitamins here in the north. Even Blueberries are believed to give a number of positive health effects, but first and foremost it is a sweet and nice berry.
- I have a juice with 100 percent Blueberry and I don’t add any sugar at all. All my products contain as few additives as possible, says Karin.
The new settlers taught the Sami to brew a Blueberry drink. If you spot glass bottles in the kitchen windows at people’s places with Blueberries that sink to the bottom and float to the top again you can rest assured that they will enjoy some Blueberry wine for Christmas. A wonderfully red-blue cider like drink, sweet and refreshing, all at the same time.
Blueberries are truly like candy, in it’s natural as well as a processed state.
Flavonoids in Blueberries are considered to protect against diabetes as well as Alzheimer’s and apparently also enhance eyesight. It is a well-known fact that blueberry soup, blueberry cordial and dried blueberries is a folk remedy to combat upset stomach. Eating lots of fresh berries has actually the opposite effect – it will give you a run for you money. But who can resist when the forest is a bright blue full of sun ripened berries?
Northern Crowberry – a berry full of vitamins and fibre
If you have happened to taste the Crowberry it is highly likely that you have turned up your nose at it or perhaps even spat it out. It is no secret that the Crowberry is not the nicest tasting berry around. The taste is a bit rough, almost bitter, but that doesn’t mean it is not healthy. It’s a pity this healthy little berry is being overshadowed by others.
- People have picked Blueberries simply because they taste better, but we know that the first people in the arctic region used the Crowberries. Now it’s fun to find new areas to use to give this berry its right placement. My philosophy is that my products must be good and healthy, that is why I often mix different berries as it enhances their health properties and goodness, says Karin.
Her glögg (mulled wine) made with Crowberries has, as mentioned earlier, won a gold medal. Karin also mixes Crowberries with Lingonberries to create a nectar, an excellent drink with food.
The Crowberry belongs to the Heather family and can be picked from August all through out the winter. Bears eat a lot of Crowberries prior to their hibernation. Just like Blueberries the Crowberries are full of antioxidants. The Crowberry is also especially ladened with the dye anthocyanin, a polyphenol with good healing properties. Research shows the substance seems to be anti-inflammatory and have a positive impact on eyesight, brain, heart and the cardiovascular system.
It is a good idea to use the Crowberry in baking and cooking. They also contain a lot of water and are therefore a good thirst quencher, great for hikers. Just keep in mind that they are a natural laxative, so contain your intake a bit.
- It is good fun to create with Crowberries. Many don’t even know what it is, an interesting fact according to Karin.
Lingonberry – a tart super berry
Try to find a Swedish home without Lingonberries! It is almost part of the staple diet and can be used with just about any food. These red little berries grow in coniferous forest, so prevalent to Sweden, and prefer some space, so you’ll find them in most clearings. Lingonberries are hardy against frost, the further into the season the sweeter they get, perhaps at their best after the first night of frost. Since they contain a high level of benzoic acid the berry will stay fresh for a long time. So much so that even remnant berries from last year’s crop still has that tart and nice taste.
Unsweetened Lingonberries have been in use in folk medicine, being an active ingredient to combat urinary infection. The apothecary used to sell Lingonberry as a fever reducing substance.
- Most people are not used to eating Lingonberries natural or frozen, however once you get used to the tarty taste people find it very palatable, says Karin.
Lingonberries are now considered to be Sweden’s own native Super Berry. More than a hundred years ago diabetics were advised to eat about half a kilo of Lingonberries a day. These days Swedish research into obesity and diabetes show that eating foods high in fat in combination with Lingonberries give lesser weight gain, lower blood sugars, lowers inflammation in the body as well as gives a lesser insulin resistance together with less cholesterol and lipids in the liver. The group – mice – that received the trendy Brazilian acai berry gained weight and increased lipids in the liver.
From berry to wine and vinegar
The new research that now occupies Karin’s mind and time with experimentation is to create a vinegar from berries of the forest.
- First I need to make a wine, then I need to reverse that alcohol into acetic acid. It is really interesting work to create vinegar, says Karin.
- Vinegar is such a useful ingredient, not only in cooking and dressings, but also as an added taste in chocolate or marmalades. And it is good for you! If it’s made well.
To store vinegar long enough to make it into balsamic takes even longer, but that does not put Karin off.
- I have discovered a whole new world! At the moment I am working as much as possible to make more products. My first vinegar will be ready during the pre-summer of 2017 and will be launched at a food fair in Stockholm, if it’s good enough.
So, summa summarum: When the forests once again are full of with berries ladened with protective bitterness, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and there is absolutely no reason not to act like the bear.
Get out there and eat, pick and get your fill for your winter bunkering.
Text: Iréne Lundström