Cloudberries (rubus chamaemorus) are probably the most sought after berries in Sweden. The berries grow in the wild and are extremely difficult to cultivate, but their golden yellow colour makes them distinctive. They have a particular place of honour in Swedish cooking and so cloudberry based desserts are often chosen for special occasions.
Where they grow
Cloudberries are related to raspberries but the plant is much smaller, growing to only around 20 cm high. In Sweden the plants are normally only found in the north, but they can occasionally be found in the south. They are usually only found growing in the wild because it is very difficult to create the right conditions to cultivate them commercially.
They are quite fussy about where they grow as they need acidic soil on high boggy ground, so look out for water-logged areas in mountainous areas of Sweden. Provided the soil is right they are extremely hardy and can stand temperatures down to -40°C.
The berries tend to be easy to find as they grow on upright stems, each stem boasting just a single berry. The plants begin to flower in June and the berries usually ripen in July. At first the berries are red, but then as they ripen they turn a beautiful golden yellow colour. The season is very short: often they've all gone by mid-August.
As the berries ripen they become softer, sweeter and juicier. I couldn't resist eating some just after picking them, but most people find them rather seedy and a bit too sour to eat on their own.
Raw cloudberries are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants. These benefits are no doubt off-set by the sugar in the jam!
Cloudberries can be bought fresh in Sweden, but I've never seen them sold fresh anywhere in the UK. Even in Sweden they are not easy to buy as they are soft and do not appreciate being handled much. They are also rather expensive as they have to be gathered in the wild. Most Swedes either buy them frozen or use jam, which is called hjortronsylt. Since raw cloudberries can taste a little tart they are actually rather nice as jam because the result is a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.
In the UK, cloudberry jam can be bought in specialist shops or ordered online. It is usually sold under the name hjortronsylt, rather than cloudberry jam. Whilst jam is obviously not quite the same as fresh cloudberries it can be used well in desserts.
Look out for a cloudberry liqueur called Lakka. It is made in Finland and is very useful as an ingredient in cloudberry desserts. You can order it online: see our section on shopping.
Swedes also sometimes use cloudberries in savoury dishes, such as mushrooms on toast, or with cheese. However, as we can only buy cloudberry jam, it is probably best to only use cloudberries with sweet dishes in the UK.
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I would love to be able to grow cloudberries, but I know I've got no chance! Within the UK there are a few people in Scotland growing cloudberries and I am told that some are having enough success that they will be selling them commercially, but I don't believe it!
To grow cloudberries in the UK you really need to live in the north of Scotland, have acid soil, an exposed situation and plenty of ground. If you want to try you can buy cloudberry plants or seeds from Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle in Scotland. They provide a mail order service, including delivering overseas. Good luck!
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