I have been living, breathing, eating saskatoons every which way since I’ve come back. I think it has been another form of therapy. Picking, cleaning and preserving 133 jars of those unique Northern berries kept my mind and hands so busy I could fall thankfully into bed each night and dream of sweet, purple-hued berries hovering just out of my grasp.
Trying to explain their flavour to anyone who’s never tasted them is difficult and elusive. They’re sweet, dense, rich, seedy, slightly blueberryish, more almondish, a bit apple-y, dusky and deep. Oh, I don’t know . . . you’ll just have to try them yourself, if you can get your hands on them.
We used to pick them in the wild as children – pails and pails full of them. Always with an accompanying thrill of slight danger as mom pointed out the seedy piles of saskatoon-tinted bear poop or the large, flattened-grass, nesty areas where a berry-feasting bear had stopped to take a nap. Saskatoon berrying has always been joined in my memory with summer heat, sticky juice-stained fingers, and the grand silence of the prairie sky.
Nothing says summer more.
Now I have my own bushes and don’t have to fight the bears for the tasty berries anymore (just my husband and children! And dog – Pippa loves them, too.)
This year I played around with different ways to preserve that purple summer in jars – juice, jelly, syrup, canning them with lemon, preserving them with peaches, and variations of a chutney (which recipe I’m still working on, maybe it’ll be perfected next saskatoon season).
|From left to right: sask-peach preserve, canned saskatoons, sask-rhubarb juice, sask-raspberry juice, saskatoon chutney, saskatoon syrup, saskatoon jelly|
Saskatoons aren’t very acidic, so I find they work best with some added punch from a tangy flavour-booster. Wow, then they shine! I combined them with rhubarb or raspberries and made them into juice with my steam juicer. Refreshing, and with that deep purple colour, I figure they’ve got to be high in antioxidants. Bonus.
If you can’t get saskatoons, this might work with blueberries, though I imagine it would be a bit more liquidy since blueberries are much more juicy than saskatoons, so you may need to cook it a bit longer to reduce the juices to the right consistency. The orange flower water lends a subtle, complex flavour that I love, however if you can’t find any, this preserve is delicious without it, too. Orange flower water and rose water are available at ethnic markets.
5 pounds (2.25 kg) saskatoon berries, picked over, rinsed and drained
12 peaches (about 5 pounds or 2.25 kg)
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup (250ml) honey
2 tsp orange flower water (or rose water – they both taste great, just subtly different)
Dip the peaches in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, until the skins loosen. Put into a bowl of cold water to cool, then slip them out of their skins. Cut them into wedges, then slice each wedge into about 4 pieces.
Place the saskatoons, diced peaches and lemon juice into a large heavy-bottomed stock pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn down the heat to low and add the honey. Simmer the fruit mixture, stirring often, about 15 to 30 minutes, until the desired thickness is reached. You want it to be saucy, not jammy, and the berries still relatively whole, although the peach chunks should be nicely softened and starting to break apart.
Ladle the hot mixture into hot, sterilized jars and seal with hot sterilized lids. (You may process them in a boiling water bath for added insurance against spoilage.) Leave jars on counter to cool.
Alternatively, you can let the mixture cool and ladle it into containers, then freeze it for future use.
Delicious served chilled as a fruit dessert, or over ice-cream, yogurt, pancakes, cheesecake, rice pudding . . . use your imagination.
For years, growing up, I ate canned saskatoons as a fruit dessert, but I always found the flavour a little bland. This year I experimented with adding lemon, and ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom! The missing link! They now have zing, and my kids can’t get enough of them. (It is important to use organic lemons here, as you are using them peel and all, and you don’t want to preserve all those toxic chemicals right into the jars.)
saskatoons, picked over, rinsed and drained
organic lemons, sliced
Make a simple syrup with the ratio of 1 cup honey to 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and keep hot, You will need about 1 to 1-1/2 cups syrup for each quart of berries. (Save any leftover syrup in the fridge and use it to sweeten summer drinks.)
Into each sterilized quart jar put 2 slices of lemon – lay 1 slice on the bottom of the jar and cover with a handful of saskatoons, then tilt the jar slightly and lay another slice against the side of the jar and fill it to within 3/4 inch of the top with berries, making sure the lemon stays against the outside of the jar. But don’t overstress about this – it just looks prettier if you can see the lemon slice from the outside of the jar. If using pints, you only need 1 slice of lemon per jar – put it against the outside of the jar.
Pour over the hot honey syrup to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jars. Close the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (15 minutes for pints).
(Don’t tell anyone the lemon slice is the best part, or you’ll have to fight them for it!)
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