Makaila Meeko, Sarah Meeko’s granddaughter, gets an early introduction to berry picking near Sanikiluaq last August. Photo courtesy of Sarah Meeko

From east to west, north to south, Nunavummiut are preparing to harvest berries.

In Kugluktuk, Wendy Klengenberg, who goes berry picking every summer, has already been checking on the blueberries. Although not yet ready to be collected, she said the amount of rainfall and the recent warm temperatures – it was 27 C on July 21 – are setting up great conditions for blueberries to thrive. They’re her favourite.

“They’re the most flavourful,” she said. “You can do so much with them. I usually make pie with them every year.”

In addition to pies, Klengenberg makes jam with blueberries and cloudberries, also known as aqpiks. The cloudberries are usually ready to be plucked off the vine by the first week of August, she said. Blueberries and black currants follow a couple of weeks later.

The end of August brings cranberries.

She said the berries can be found just a kilometre or two outside of the community.

Blueberry and cloudberry jams are among Wendy Klengenberg’s specialties with locally-harvested berries in Kugluktuk. Photo courtesy of Wendy Klengenberg

“It’s not far,” she said. “You can walk. It’s not recommended to walk because of the bears around.”

Klengenberg hasn’t had any close encounters with bears but she said she always carries a rifle with her, just in case.

It’s not just bears that are attracted to berries, geese also munch on the fruit.

“They can clean up the fields pretty quick,” she said, adding that the birds seem particularly fond of blueberries.

Some people travel across the Coppermine River to gather berries on the other side.

Wendy Klengenberg’s no-cook blueberry pie, made with blueberries harvested near Kugluktuk. Photo courtesy of Wendy Klengenberg

“They’re all over the place,” she said.

Originally from Ulukhaktok, Klengenberg said the only berries in her home community are blueberries, and they’re scarce. In Kugluktuk, she strives to collect several kilograms of cloudberries and cranberries and up to 20 kg of blueberries each summer.

Cranberry muffins are another of her delights.

In Sanikiluaq, Sarah Meeko said alpine bear berries are the first to ripen for the season, usually by the end of this month. She described them as “mildly sweet,” but they were still green on July 21. They’ll turn red when they’re ideal for consumption, she noted.

Cloudberries, blueberries and crowberries are best in August.

The late-season fruit that sprouts around Sanikiluaq is lingonberries – like cranberries – but they’re still plenty tasty the following spring, even if unpicked, Meeko said.

“They get sweet through the winter, and the Elders used to use lingonberries as medicine a long time ago. They said the berries settled the stomach,” she said, adding that they also make good jam.

Residents can find berries in close proximity to Sanikiluaq, but some travel about 20 km to the southeastern part of the island by boat.

“They’re a lot more abundant there because it gets warmer than this part of the islands,” Meeko said. “The other island is about 120 km southeast of Sanikiluaq, where some people go camping for the summer and bring back a lot of berries and char.”

The berries, especially lingonberries, are a treat in herbal tea, and herbal tea leaves are bountiful in the area, she added.

Meeko normally gathers a modest amount of berries for herself and her family each year.

“Just enough to make pies and save a few Ziploc bags in the freezer for the winter,” she said.

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