Until I came to Alberta, I never saw containers of many fresh Saskatoon berries in either British Columbia nor Ontario. Only occasionally, I saw saskatoons already processed in jams, jellies, salad dressings or pies at a farmers’ market or at a gourmet food shop. I might have had a Saskatoon berry pie slice once upon a time.
Power Berry for North American Aboriginals
This tiny dark purple-blue berry does grow in both of those provinces also. But the
cultural lore of Saskatoon berries seem to reside most with the prairie aboriginals, the Cree and Blackfoot First Nations with some use by the Salish along the west coast who seem to have far greater access to different types of berries.
The berry’s name is derived from the Blackfoot, “misaskatomina” or from the Cree, “misaskquahtoomina”. Other common names are: serviceberry, juneberry or amelanchier (French).
Saskatoon berry bushes can grow in slightly dry or open forest areas, preferably with some soil drainage, sun, and can even withstand a bit colder temperatures in sub-alpine regions.
Unlike blueberries, saskatoon berries have a drier, slightly more earthy, yet still fruity taste. Perhaps one of the reasons why people aren’t scooping up handfuls of saskatoons to eat,
is that they are abit more expensive. However, they cost no more than raspberries during peak harvest –at least, in Alberta. Only within the past decade or so, some provinces now realize its market fresh value and have started to lay cultivated trees systematically for the berry hungry food locavores. Most notably, Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s agriculture and agritourism divisions have paid attention by deploying more technical information for potential farmers and general public marketing campaigns.
One wonder about the gaps in knowledge transfer on a wide scale where this berry and its shrub parts, were used for centuries in many different ways by the aboriginals –food, medicine and accoutrements, such as pipes. But such knowledge is becoming increasingly lost on how to even distinguish this berry, as well as other edible berries from poison in the woods.
We bought our first ever, overflowing box of fresh berries from Saskatoon Farms’ stand at the Calgary Farmers’ Market.
The saskatoons proved to be elegant when cooked into a dark wine sauce with our bison and sautéed kohl rabi on the side. Also the berries complemented a balsamic fig vinegar and Dijon mustard salad dressing that Jack invented on the fly. Then our remaining berries were frozen to lengthen our summer memories of sun-bright prairies and these twinkling wee berries of potential.
Article by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests for details on ethnobotany of Saskatoon berries and its different uses by the aboriginals. More extensive scientific information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.