Across the North, entire families have fanned out right now to pick crowberries or cranberries or Saskatoons from their top-secret patches. They will come home with baskets full—that’s when the jamming and canning begins.
Delectable no matter their name
Cloudberries go by many names—in Nunavut it’s aqpik, bakeapple in Newfoundland and Labrador, or salmonberry in Alaska. Tiffany Ayalik just calls them delicious. “They’re really tart but they also have this sort of peachy-pumpkiny thing to them too. Oh my gosh, my mouth is watering right now talking about them.”
Long before she became the host of Wild Kitchen, a cooking and documentary program about wild Northern food, Ayalik would go out to pick berries with her family. “Ever since we were little, we would get an ice cream pail and put it around our belts on our waists. We’d have one glove—just sort of like a gardening glove to hold the branch—and then one free hand with just our fingers to get the berries.” Cloudberries are best in August in Nunavut, but they can be plucked in July in the NWT and the Yukon. They thrive in marshy spots, so pickers beware:
you’ll be battling mosquitoes. Cloudberries start out red and slowly change to a golden orange as they ripen. “There is a short window where, as soon as they’re ready, people rampage-pick and get them and freeze them,” says Ayalik. Cloudberries are packed with vitamin C—according to the government of Nunavut, half a cup of cloudberries provides at least 50 percent of the daily recommended amount.
Ayalik’s not spilling where her patch is—it’s a carefully guarded family secret. “The first rule about berry club is not talking about berry club.”
Classics that never go out of style
Picking cranberries is always a good idea. And in Tuktoyaktuk, it’s also a good business idea. In 2016, the Tuktoyaktuk Garden Club—all five of them—made 350 jars of jam, which sold out almost immediately. “When we started producing it, the orders were going off the shelf,” says Annie Steen, a garden club jammer who also happens to be the town’s economic development officer. The club sold their wares at local craft fairs and holiday markets, with labels that just said “Tuktoyaktuk.” But it wasn’t only locals scooping up the jam. One jar made it all the way to Chad, Africa. The club’s goal is to raise $38,000 to build a hydroponics dome so the community garden can produce food year-round.
Cranberries grow in damp areas with spruce or moss nearby, and are best picked in August and September. A bag from the grocery store just can’t compare with the taste of wild cranberries, says Steen. “The cranberries are very tart, not sweet like you get from the stores,” she says. “It’s like buying bread in the store as opposed to homemade bread, right? Two completely different tastes and appreciation for it.”
The best in all the world
One of the most popular berries in the North is an immigrant. Haskaps come from Japan by way of Siberia and Russia, but they’ve made themselves at home in the Yukon.
“The berry itself is probably similar to a cross between a blueberry, raspberry and a black currant,” says Kyle Marchuk of Yukon Berry Farms, the territory’s largest organic berry farm. Their Northern plants produce berries that are “larger, sweeter, healthier” than in other parts of the world, he says. From what he’s read, the harsher climate puts the berries and plants into a fight to survive. “I think when they face the colder weather, they actually produce more antioxidants as a survival mechanism,” he says. Translation: they’re really tasty.
Marchuk knows when best to pick his haskaps. He has it down to a science. “We have a refractometer,” he says. “We have to wait until the berry hits a certain sugar level before they’re ready.”
Haskaps are great in jams, baked goods and vinaigrettes, but they’ve also proved popular as the base for berry-infused tipples. Yukon Brewing, for instance, made up a batch of Kölsch-style beer. Haskap berries will grow wild around wetlands and marshy areas, but they haven’t been here long enough to become widespread. Crops are limited to areas near plantations. But don’t despair, at Yukon Berry Farms you can pick to your heart’s content.
RECIPES: Feeling saucy? We picked three recipes to help you make the most of your family’s fall berry harvest.
Michele Genest, The Boreal Feast
This jam turns out almost candy-like. It’s great on its own, as a topping for desserts, or mixed into baked goods. “I love them as a cheesecake topping,” says Ayalik.
• 4 cups (1 L) cloudberries
• 2 cups (475 ml) sugar
Wash berries and gently shake dry in a sieve. Transfer to a saucepan without heat; gently stir in sugar and leave to sit in a cool place for two to three hours.
Bring berries and sugar to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until thick, about 20 minutes. The juice and sugar will develop into a clear, golden syrup and the berries will take on a translucent look.
Pour into sterilized jars, close them, and process in a boiling water bath, adding two minutes per 1,000 feet above sea level.
Haskap Berry Chutney
This chutney is great as a topping for pork, wild meat or sausage, or served with any mild cheese or cream cheese on crackers. Want to get fancy? Use it to top baked brie with pecans.
• 3 cups haskap berries
• 1 large onion
• 1 green apple
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 cup raisins (sultanas are great if you can find them)
• 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, allspice, curry powder, ginger
• 1/4 tsp ground cloves
• 1/4 tsp chili powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a medium to large saucepan.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until it has reduced down enough to become slightly thickened.
Ladle into sterilized jars for storage or allow the chutney to cool and freeze in small portions.
Wild Cranberry Sauce
This sauce tastes best with lowbush cranberries. Mix in a few highbush or alpine cranberries for a sweet and tart blend.
• 4 cups wild cranberries
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 teaspoon allspice
Bring ingredients to a boil in a large sauce pan. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool and serve.