Ball Jars filled with freshly-picked cloudberries (often locally called salmon berries). We’ll add a little lemon juice, pectin, and sugar to the crushed berries, mix and simmer this in our bread maker for an hour-and-twenty minutes, pour the mixture back into the jars and put them in the freezer to set. This will provide us with some of the most tantalizing jam imaginable. Cloudberry jam…
The morning was cool and cloudy, with mist and banks of fog rolling across Point Hope. We’d been told that we’d find berries about three miles east of town along Seven-Mile Road, and so seven of us had gathered to make the hike out. Two of the men carried 12 gauge shotguns and a third carried a side arm. Bears are always a possibility.
The wildflowers which all but carpeted the tundra when we arrived here nearly a month ago are mostly gone now, though here and there a few tiny yellow Alaska poppies and beautiful blue but deadly monkshood and other flowers are still blooming. And then, right about at three miles just as we’d been told, there they were… cloudberries, growing together in small patches where mounds of earth were just high enough above the boggy tundra to allow roots to drain. The unripe cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus) were deep red and beautiful. The ripe ones are the amber-orange color of Chinook salmon flesh, giving their close relatives, salmon berries (Rubus spectabilis), their names.
Wherever cloudberries grow across the upper latitudes of North America and Europe, they are a prized delicacy, agreeably tart when barely ripe, becoming creamy rich and sweet as they continue to ripen. They contain twice as much vitamin C as oranges. Growing very close to the ground, the berries were surprisingly inconspicuous at first. But once our eyes adjusted to what we were looking for, the tundra seemed to sparkle with their red, orange and amber glow.
We picked for about two hours, happy to have worn Muck Boots as we slogged through the soft, wet ground. By the time hunger caught up with us and it was time to head back, Barbra and I had about three pounds of berries between us–enough for a few jars of the freezer jam which would make the hike well worth the effort.
On the walk back, the sun began to push its way through the thinning clouds, lighting the land around us. It was then that Barbra and one of our friends spotted a large white bird perched motionless on a hump out on the tundra. “It’s got to be an owl,” I said. “Let’s see.” We made our way toward the white shape until there was no doubt we were looking at a large snowy owl. These owls are huge, the heaviest in North America. When it finally spread its magnificent wings and lifted off, it revealed an underside of almost pure white–a male in its prime, grown fat on ground squirrels.