16 July 2010

Norwegian Strawberries


Summer in Norway means strawberries and the appearance of the first punnets of local 'jordbær' is always met with much excitement and discussion. Indeed, strawberries hold a special place in all Norwegians' hearts. Even their name, 'jordbær', evocatively translates to 'earth berries' in English, conjuring up an image of a primal fruit as old as Norway itself. Now one might think that the northern climate of Norway is not particularly suited to growing strawberries, but for a few glorious weeks of the year Norway produces some of the finest strawberries I have ever tasted. The relatively cool summers and abundance of light produce slightly smaller berries that are bursting with the most extraordinary concentrated strawberry flavour. They are a vibrant shade of crimson; a colour that extends all the way to the core of the strawberry, unlike some of the giant polytunnel monstrosities that are tasteless and white at their centre.

Strawberries can be found for sale everywhere in Norway at this time of year. They are sold outside grocery shops, by the side of the road, or you can pick your own at the many farms offering 'selvplukk jordbær'. The first strawberries of the summer are always expensive, falling in price as the season progresses. I read somewhere that the average Norwegian consumes around 5kg of strawberries during the summer - if anything this sounds like an underestimate.

Another superlative joy to be found at this time of year is the abundance of wild strawberries, or 'markjordbær' in Norwegian. They can generally be found growing around woods everywhere and provide tiny bursts of the most intense, delicious and intoxicating strawberry flavour. It is common to see kids (young and old) foraging for wild strawberries and making 'markjordbær på strå' by threading these tiny deep-red jewels onto long blades of grass to be enjoyed later. If you're lucky, you may even be able to find some white wild strawberries which, although pearl white in colour, have the same intense flavour as the red ones.

In total there are around 15 different varieties of strawberries in Norway, with the Korona, Senga Sengana, Zephyr, and Bounty cultivars accounting for the vast majority of strawberries grown in Norway. As the season progresses, strawberries from more northern parts of the country start to ripen and the prices of punnets gradually fall. Come the beginning of August, as quickly as they arrived, they've gone. All that's left are some jars of homemade jam to tide one over through the long winter months.

A common sight in summer along the roads in Norway
Freshly picked Korona strawberries for sale in Bygdøy 

Intensely sweet strawberries from Hjembu Farm on the South Coast of Norway
Markjordbær på strå - Wild strawberries on a grass 'straw', picked near Risør
Strawberries and skyr - an Icelandic cultured dairy product, a bit like a thick, sour yoghurt (originally from Norway)
Hulled strawberries ready for the pan (if you can resist not eating them all)
Making jam

Homemade jam - perfect with Norwegian sour-cream waffles or English scones
Simple Strawberry Jam Recipe

Ingredients:
1kg strawberries, hulled
500g jam sugar (sugar with natural pectin) - add more if you like your jam sweeter
Juice of 1 lemon

Method:
1.  Place strawberries in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently until the juices start to run
2.  Mash the strawberries a bit, depending on how chunky you like your jam
3.  Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved (do not let it boil at this stage)
4.  Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a vigorous boil
5.  Boil for 4 minutes (or longer for a thicker jam)
6.  Skim off any foam; spoon into hot, sterilised jars; cover with a disc of wax paper and seal (will keep for a year or so)