Newfoundlanders are very partial to their bakeapples using them in pies, jams and sauces. The location of a good berry patch is often a closely held secret due in no small part to the fact that each plant bears but a single berry each year.
Less well known is the fact that bakeapples were long-recognised by people living in Norway and Finnmark as essential foods for combating scurvy. Long before the British Navy discovered the value of adding lemon juice to rum, Vikings sailing south to the Mediterranean carried barrels of bakeapples to fight off this disease!
Among the earliest scientific documents on the role of bakeapples (known as cloudberries in Europe) in fighting scurvy are two texts published in Latin in 1596 and 1635, respectively. The two texts were recently translated and are described in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
The first text tells us that in 1596, Henrik Høyer, a doctor in Bergen (Norway), who fully appreciated the nutritional value of the berries brought samples to Carolus Clusius at Leyden University in the Netherlands to convince him of their curative properties. He described one way that those who were sick with scurvy were cured:
They place the sick people in a neighboring island rich in these ripe berries, and the people are left there alone, and are not taken back home before they can return healed. And indeed those people are forced to eat these berries. And, if they do this to satiety, undoubtedly within a few days they convalesce in the village.
The second text translated from the Latin was the first Scandinavian PhD thesis about scurvy and its treatment. It was written by Ambrosius Rhodius at the University of Copenhagen in 1635. Rhodius recognized that a good diet was important in treating scurvy and, best of all foods, was the Norwegian cloudberry.
Ten years later, the Medical Faculty at the University of Copenhagen included cloudberries in a booklet on how to prevent and treat scurvy. In 1761, when the Flora Danica atlas of Danish plants was first printed, the (Norwegian) cloudberry was the very first plant in the atlas.
Despite all this early knowledge, scurvy remained the most common disease in the Nordic countries until the early 19th century. It was only when the potato was adopted as a common food that the disease was contained.
Next time you see a bakeapple or spread some bakeapple jam on a cracker, ponder a moment about the history and great nutritional value of this little fruit.