I have a dour Norwegian pal from the North Pole named, coincidentally, Pål. (Pronounced “Paul”.) He’s about 7 feet tall and I knew him sometime before I ever saw him smile. He’s actually got a good sense of humor, and will laugh heartily when you get him going. But he’s just as likely to get teary telling you about the time back home when they watched a reindeer dying outside the living room window.
I had Pål and his now ex-wife (from Ireland) over for dinner one time. I can’t remember what I cooked — hopefully I didn’t try to be clever and make him Norwegian food (“You ever had lutefisk like that before, Pål!??”) When we have guests for dinner and they ask what they can bring, I’ll often suggest dessert — it’s not my favorite dish to prepare and that’s one less thing I have to think about. I will never forget what Pål brought us for dessert.
Inside a very large Tupperware container was puffy clouds of whipped cream tinted a pale, cheery orange by something that looked like trout caviar. (Okay, I thought, so it’s weird but what the heck, I’ll try trout caviar for dessert.) What it turned out to be was wild cloudberries that Pål’s parents had just brought him from Norway.
Cloudberries, for those of you not raised in latitudes of 60° or above, are relatives of the raspberry and blackberry. The color of tangerines, they have a subtle, delicate taste that is reminiscent of honey, riesling and apples. Because they are still primarily a wild food with only minor success at cultivation, and are extremely perishable, they are highly prized — especially in Norway. And so I understood and was demonstrably appreciative of the effort it must have taken Pål’s parents to smuggle the berries in, and the generosity of his sharing them with us — even more so when, at evening’s end, he suggested we keep the remaining 3/4-full Tupperware ourselves. So for a full week, at intervals throughout the day, I would open the fridge, peel the top off the container, and scoop out a large spoonful of the heavenly stuff, close in my imagination to how the ambrosia of Greek mythology must’ve tasted. Perhaps Ulysses made an unrecorded visit to Thor…
One of my favorite PBS cooking shows is called “New Scandinavian Cooking” with a charming host named Andreas Viestad, who travels around Norway setting up his outdoor stove and cooking whatever grows locally. Cloudberries are a regular feature — baked into crumbles, blended into yogurt drinks, spread over venison. In Alaska, they are enjoyed by native people mixed with seal oil, caribou fat and sugar, fluffed up together and known as Eskimo ice cream. (I have not included a recipe.) The simple dessert that Pål brought is actually a traditional Norwegian dish called Multekrem, or “cloudberry cream.”
Spending time recently on a large rural property in southern Washington state, as some of you may have read, I found myself up to my elbows in blackberries. While not possessing quite the same polar romanticism to this particular West Coast American, they would make a worthwhile dessert prepared the same way as Pål’s cloudberries.
One note: if you make this dessert, remember that because there are only a few ingredients, the quality of your fruit and cream will be paramount. Choose well, and you will be rewarded richly. Enjoy…
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serves 4 – 8, depending on portion size
1 lb. ripe cloudberries, raspberries, blackberries or marionberries
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
mint sprigs for garnish
In a large bowl, combine cream and sugar. With the dull end of a butter knife, scrape the vanilla beans from the pod into the mixture (save beans for flavoring something else later). Using an electric hand blender (or by hand with a whisk for the bold of heart), whip the cream mixture until fluffy and stiff. Fold in the berries, fluffing as you go.
Serve in individual bowls, garnished with a sprig of mint if you’d like.