Wednesday, July 16, 2008

keep your fork, there's saskatoon berry pie

The saskatoon berry. From this...

I’m a prairie girl by birth, and saskatoon berries grow in a lot of places in and around the city where I grew up.

Growing up, saskatoon berry picking in our family was a ritual that was synonymous with summer. I have vivd memories of clambering around in bushes, picking the small but firm berries off the bushes and hearing the soft hollow thunk as they landed in the empty plastic ice cream pails we used.

I'm not sure how my parents found the locations we picked berries from, but I suspect that the fact that they took their young daughters along probably limited the time they had to travel and pick. Both places were within the city, and both were within a 15 minute drive from our house. One of the places is now the site of a mega mall, near a trailer park. The other was also in the city itself, in the depths of the bushes of one of the large local parks. The season was short, so every year my family and I would hurry out and pick pailfuls. My mom would take all the berries we picked (usually 16-20 cups worth, minus whatever my sister and I "taste-tested") and make a batch of saskatoon berry pies. This tradition repeated itself every year, for as long as I can remember, and we always enjoyed the results. I guess this is why saskatoon berry pie is such a comfort food for me.

I left the prairies almost nine years ago. My family followed me east. Saskatoon berries, and saskatoon berry pie became something of a whispered legend, as in " I Remember back when....". I never thought I'd see them ever again.

And then last week, I found them at our local farmer’s market (and this one is as local as they get these days.) . I bought them for my mother, hoping she would make us a pie. Being the wonderful person that she is, she didn't disappoint.

To this...

To this....

For those of you who may not be familiar with the saskatoon berry, here are some interesting points:

  • Saskatoons look a little like wild blueberries and taste a little nutty, like almonds.
  • They are denser than a blueberry.
  • They grow on bushes.
  • You don't have to be from Saskatoon to eat saskatoon berries.
  • You don't have to live in Saskatoon to grow saskatoon berries.
  • You can make pies, syrups, jams and more from saskatoon berries.
  • I have never found a fresh or canned saskatoon berry at the grocery store.
  • Not only are they tasty, saskatoon berries are highly nutritious. (according to this site, saskatoon berries are higher in protein, fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, barium, and aluminum then the blueberry, and are lower in phosphorus and sulfur and are also a source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.)
  • It took my husband and I only 24 hours to completely devour the pie after my mom took the one piece she wanted.

All gone...for now.

[Update 08/08: I was very excited to learn that my mom has bought a saskatoon berry bush to plant in her yard. This means that in a couple of years, we will be able to resume picking berries ourselves in order to make pies. I also learned that the place where she bought it also sold serviceberry bushes, which are an entirely different type of plant according to them.]

My Mom's Saskatoon Berry Pie Recipe
8 slices

This post has been submitted to Sugar High Fridays, hosted this month by FoodBlogga and created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. I am really looking forward to seeing what else people will come up with! I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.

Mom, thanks for making us the pie and sharing your recipe!


4 cups saskatoon berries
2/3 cup -3/4 cup of sugar
(my husband likes it sweet, I like it tart. The pie my mom made used half a cup, so we think 2/3 should do it)
2 1/2 tbsp of instant tapioca (thickener)
1/2 tbsp of hard butter, quartered and dolloped on the berries

This basic whole wheat crust recipe is from
Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil, my favorite recipe book for the moment.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup soft butter
1 egg
1 tbsp white vinegar

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients for the crust together in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut in the butter. Keep working the mixture. Crumbly, pea-sized bits will appear. Important: avoid handling the dough with your hands. When Moreka Jolar says the key to good pastry is to handle it as little as possible, she's right. The less you work it, the flakier it will turn out.

In a measuring cup, mix the egg and the vinegar together. Add enough cold water to make half a cup. Pour this gently over the dry crust mixture. Do not knead it. Mix only enough to form 2 equal sized firm balls. Wrap each ball in plastic and chill before rolling them out (an hour recommended).

To create the pie

Roll the first ball out to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Carefully push the dough into the sides of the pie dish and around the edges. Spread the filling out evenly into the pie dish. Roll out the second ball of dough and place it on top of the berries. Pinch the edges carefully together to seal the pie.

Make some vent holes in the top. (My mom does a V pattern across the diameter of the pie) . Brush with a little bit of milk (1-2 tbsp) and sprinkle some sugar to make it glisten (according to my mom white is best - I made her use cane sugar and she noticed the difference).

Bake at 375 F for 50-60 minutes or until it is browned and the berries bubble through.


Susan from Food Blogga said...

Oooh, I'm so excited with your entry Avra. I've had a lot of berries in my day, but I've never tried saskatoons. Now, after reading your post and seeing your delicious photos, I'm dying to try them for myself. This is a terrific SHF entry! Thanks a bunch, and please say thanks to your sweet mom. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of saskatoon berries but they look yummy! And I'm definitely going to give that pie crust recipe a try, I've been on the hunt for a new one.

Alanna @ Kitchen Parade said...

I've only had saskatoon berries once, at an Amish cafe in Steinbach, east of Winnipeg. They were gorgeous, just like your mum's pie!

Psychgrad said...

Awesome! I have a bunch of frozen saskatoon berries in my freezer.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in North Dakota, and when we go back for the 4th one of the highlights is picking "Juneberries"
I've always been told that to find them, you must stand knee-deep in poison ivy, be surrounded by hundreds of mosquitoes and have ticks crawling all over you. If you look up, you'll find them.
It's ALL worth it - they're soooo good.

avra said...

Picking Juneberries sounds a lot like picking huckleberries: step 1, find a mountain, step 2. start climbing, step 3. look for the scraggly bushes and start picking until you are so exhausted, you can no longer stand... (admittedly, I only did that once..)

So seriously, you go through that torture every year? Wow. They _must_ be good.