A Taste of Spring

Nothing says summer like the sweet aroma of a Saskatoon berry crumble baking in the oven on a warm July day. As a child, I spent many happy hours picking the small, succulent, purple berries. Some even made it into the bucket and into the kitchen.

Also called juneberry, pigeon berry and prairie berry, Saskatoon bushes are plentiful across the prairies and forested regions of Alberta and British Columbia, as well as parts of the United States. Saskatoon berries grow on trees that can reach more than twenty-six feet in height. The small white flowers are one of the first flowers of spring and fill the air with their heady, sweet, musky smell.

These colorful, flavorful and nutritious berries are versatile. Their sweet, nutty, almond taste has made them a staple in kitchens for centuries. The Cree First Nations people called them mis-sask-quah-too-mina and dried the berries, combining them with dried meat to make pemmican. At a mere thirty calories per half a cup, and packed full of fiber and antioxidants, the Saskatoon berry is a definite nutritional winner.

Today the berries are used in jam, pie, wine, cider and beer. One of the most unusual ways I’ve enjoyed Saskatoons is in a delicious and decadent concoction called Saskatoon poutine, served in Klondike Kate’s restaurant in Dawson City, Yukon.

Here’s a recipe I found in my mother’s 1940 Home Economics manual. It’s never-fail and easy to make. Try it and you too will become a fan of this wild berry.

Saskatoon Berry Brown Betty

3 cups ripe Saskatoon berries                                 ¼ cup white sugar

¼ cup butter                                                             2 cups soft bread crumbs (whole wheat crumbs may be substituted for a healthier option)

2 Tablespoons lemon juice                                      ½ cup cold water

a pinch of salt

  1. Melt butter and stir in bread crumbs.
  2. Grease a baking dish, and put in one-quarter of the crumbs and one-half of the berries. Sprinkle with one-eighth cup of sugar.
  3. Add another layer of crumbs, berries and sugar. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top.
  4. Add water and bake at 350 degrees F. for forty-five minutes until the Saskatoon berry mixture is bubbling and the crust is brown.
  5. Set the baking dish on rack to cool for ten minutes before serving.

Delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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