In the land of Legos (Sweden) and Santa Claus (Finland), grows a very rare and finicky berry called the Cloudberry or “lakka”. Because of its rarity it’s revered by these Nordics and made into liqueur and a very flavorful jam. The jam is integrated into sauces, ice creams, pastries, and used for topping foods like pancakes and waffles. A Finnish summer obsession is to serve it atop the regional halloumi-like leipajuusto, or baked ‘squeeky’ cow’s cheese.
Cocktail conniseur Jack Maxwell explored the cocktails made from this sacred berry on his new Travel Channel show, Booze Traveler, another fave of mine. He tasted the Lapponia brand of cloudberry liqueur, calling it a very sweet, syrupy, and tart liqueur. One of the most interesting cocktails I found made with this liqueur is called ‘Rudolph’s Nosebleed,’ which Finns drink on Christmas Eve. It’s made with a staggering mix of Jagermeister, rum, tobasco, ketchup, apple juice and an egg!
The berries grow close to the swampy wild pete bogs in the Artic highlands, and are part of the rose family, making them cousins related to strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. There are usually more male plants than female plants, but with all that pollination opportunity, the female plants don’t produce fruit every season, sometimes taking up to seven years to produce fruit. Talk about playing hard to get!
The fruit can range from golden to reddish, but they ripen into an amber-orangish color. They’re not commercially grown, so foraging them in the wild is the only way they’re collected. And, the Finns are very open about their foraging. Basically you can pick them anywhere without trespassing, as long as you have a berry basket on your arm. The picking season in northern Finland’s Lapland area is from late July to early August. The berry’s picking season is a sacred time for Finns to get out and explore their wilderness. It’s a bit like the reverence of the truffle hunt, but the berry is virtually unknown outside of Northern Europe.
The flavor is a complex mix of tart and sweet. They are loaded with antioxidants and contain 3-4 times as much Vitamin C as an orange! They also contain benzoic acid, so they can be preserved for a long time in their own juice.
Covington, Kentucky, is home to the area’s first and only Swedish café, Fika Hus. That’s if you don’t count the food court at IKEA in Westchester, Ohio, where cloudberry jam can be purchased. The Swedish word fika means “coffee break”, which sometimes, for Swedes, happens twice a day. It’s their answer to the English tea time, and comes along with fabulous pastries and snacks. This is where they’d integrate a cloudberry pastry or cloudberry topped waffle. No matter what you’re doing, you must take a fika to refuel and comtemplate the day. The U.S. definitely needs this concept integrated into our business day. We are too prone to burnout, while the Europeans and Nordics understand the balance between work and much needed downtime. Unfortunately for us, there are no cloudberry dishes at Fika Hus, yet – I guess I’m going to have to bug them to integrate it into their expanding menu!