Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Nagoonberry

I have a favorite new berry. It's called a nagoonberry. Haven't heard of nagoonberries? Well, you're not alone—and you probably don't spend much time in Alaska, where I happen to be right now.

Here in Cordova, just about everyone knows the nagoonberry. And now that I do, too, I could be persuaded to journey north just to get my hands on these delicious "arctic raspberries," never mind the salmon fishing.

The nagoonberry, Rubus arcticus, is a wine-red relative of blackberries and raspberries that grows in northern climates around the world, from Alaska and Canada to Finland, Scandinavia, and Russia. The name comes from Tlingit Indian "neigóon," meaning little jewels that pop from the ground. The low-lying plant, with its three-lobed, serrated leaves, hugs boggy terrain on both the coast and interior of Alaska. They're not prolific, though I've been told that berry-pickers in Cordova gather good quantities for jam, liqueur, and fruit leather. The flavor belies its geographical distribution with a tropical Hawaiian Punch twist on a typical blackberry.

By late August, the pickings around Cordova are slim, but yesterday there were still enough ripe nagoonberries in the wet, mossy meadows just off the roadside to give me a taste of something totally new. And now I'm hooked. These berries are something special and worth seeking out if you're in the North Country.