August 4, 2009

My fingers are blue, and I’m sure my lips are too! It’s saskatoon berry time in western Canada. I’m at my friend Sharon Rottier’s U-pick filling my pails and my mouth at the same time. Those berries are sooo good!

I picked several pails of the tasty juicy berries at Sharon Rottier's farm this last week. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

I picked several pails of the tasty juicy berries at Sharon Rottier's farm this last week. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Saskatoons are wild blueberry-like berries that grow across much of midwestern Canada and USA. U-picks with domesticated versions of the berries are springing up all over the country, with supply not yet keeping up with demand. For good reason:

Saskatoon berries can be considered as one kind of “Superfruit.” The word “Superfruit” refers to fruit which contains high sources of antioxidants. From a nutraceutical perspective, antioxidant rich fruits have anti-cancer, anti-aging, and anti-heart problem effects on the human body. The benefits of antioxidants have contributed against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, and act as a protective guard to our immune systems. (from www.prairieberries.com)

The Kawulych family sign along Highway 18 invites all to come and pick saskatoon berries. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Kawulych family sign along Highway 18 invites all to come and pick saskatoon berries. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Fifteen years ago Sharon went to a course put on by Alberta Agriculture. Their goal was to promote saskatoons to the point where anything strawberries were put in (pies, ice cream, pastries etc.) saskatoons would be used too.

A neighbour started a U-pick shortly after and when Sharon visited her, she thought “this is fun – someday I’m going to do this.”

Sharon planted 300 saskatoon bushes about 10 years ago. The seedlings came from the Saskatoon Farm south of Calgary, Alberta (www.saskatoonfarm.com). She has three varieities – Thiessen, Smoky and Northline, which she picked because they remain a shorter shrub. She has too many memories of thrashing through the bush as a child, trying to reach these high branches and getting all scratched.

She’s been getting a serious crop for about three years now. “I think we’re up to 60 pails (this year) already and we’re having fun,” she says. There are still a lot of berries out there. As of yet she is advertising by word of mouth only.

A four litre pail of berries, picked yourself, costs $8.00. “If I was a real business person, I could make more money,” Sharon admits. But the patch helped purchase a dishwasher last year.

“It’s a way for me to connect with the community,” Sharon says. She likes to take the time to meet with her customers, invite them in for a purple milkshake when they are done picking.

What’s a purple milkshake? – you put a lot of ice cream, berries, milk and ice cubes into a mixer and you have it. Vary it according to taste.

“In the winter it’s so fun to make saskatoon rhubarb pie or crumble. Once frozen it works best to add rhubarb to the saskatoons to bring out the flavor,” Sharon says. She likes to use the following saskatoon pie filling recipe, often canning supplies of it for the winter:

Andrea and Rick Medcke have a large saskatoon berry U-pick operation as part of their market garden in Jarvie, Alta. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Andrea and Rick Medcke have a large saskatoon berry U-pick operation as part of their market garden in Jarvie, Alta. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Makes 2 pies:

7 cups saskatoons

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup tapioca

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and add water to almost level with the fruit. Let stand 5 minutes. Slowly bring to a boil. Pour, hot, into sterile jars and seal with new lids. Process in water bath for 15- 20 minutes.

So get out there to one of the U-picks in your area, pick a few pails of the succulent velvet dark berries, eat a whole bunch and make sure you freeze or can some for those long winter months! Your body will thank you, so will your family and friends. And you’ll support our local farmers.

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