As a young girl growing up in rural Saskatchewan, l recall the many summer visits to my grandparent’s yard and property to pick the tasty, wild berries that grew in abundance there. We knew them as June Berries and we were so appreciative of the many desserts, preserves and treats that they provided. Today this sweet, nutritious berry is better known as the Saskatoon Berry.
The Saskatoon Berry is a wild fruit of the Canadian Prairies grown and enjoyed by North Americans for hundreds of years. The name Saskatoon originated from the Cree word “Mis-sask-quah-too-mina”, which means the fruit of the tree with many branches. The First Nations people and the early settlers of the Canadian prairies, used Saskatoon Berries in their diet for centuries. The berries provided them with much-needed minerals and vitamins, along with the flavour and sweetness. Incidentally, this Cree word is also the source of the name chosen for the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, located on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.
Native to the Canadian Prairies, Northern Canada and British Columbia, the berries, bursting with nutrients, are quickly becoming Canada’s Superfruit. As the demand for agricultural land increased, the prairie land was cleared and the wild trees disappeared. It is of no surprise that Saskatoon Berry orchards are being established. In 1918, one of the first orchards was established at Peace River, Alberta and since then the industry has rapidly gained in popularity.
As many of you know, my husband, Maurice and I had spent many years enjoying our busy lifestyle. The farming and lumber operation, working outside the home and our acreage kept us more than busy. However, with the arrival of 1990 came the realization that life changes would be inevitable. With the thought of retirement in the near future, it seemed necessary to plan for a new project and so after much thought and research we made the decision to plant and establish a U-Pick Saskatoon Berry Orchard on our acreage. And so, began our twenty-five-year-old love affair with Saskatoon Berries!
With a variety of nurseries to choose from, both in Alberta and Saskatchewan and because of location, we decided to purchase 75 cloned seedlings from Prairie Plant Systems in Saskatoon. Both the Thiessen Saskatoon and the Martin Saskatoon are native to our area and so they became the varieties of our choice. The plants did well and by the third year we saw a few lovely, white blossoms and tasted our first berries. We were fortunate to have a gentleman in the area who had mastered the art of pruning the trees and he was willing to share his knowledge. Maurice appreciated his expertise and it served him well in the following years.
Suddenly our trees were producing more berries than we could use and we were inviting family and friends over to pick and enjoy our bountiful harvests. It was a pleasure to share the berries and seemed difficult to now set up the U-Pick business and without a plan this became a bartering and honour system. To show their appreciation the pickers would bring a token or gift of their choice or a monetary donation. We in turn appreciated the fresh vegetables, the farm raised chickens, a lovely beef roast, a cured ham, the occasional bottle of wine and course the smoked fish that was a special treat from our neighbour who enjoyed fishing and the quiet time of berry picking. Most years the trees produced more than a hundred gallons and we enjoyed our efforts. It was a special time!
Saskatoon berries are delightful right off the bush. Historically they were used in making pemmican and for a variety of illnesses. Today Saskatoon Berries are commonly used in pies, tarts, muffins and desserts, they can also be used in wines, ciders and liquors. My family and friends enjoy my Saskatoon Berry Delight and I would like to share the recipe with you.
Shirley's Saskatoon Berry Delight
Easy and delicious Saskatoon Berry dessert recipe
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine melted
- 2 cups Graham wafer crumbs
- 2 tbsp white sugar (optional)
- 1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon to taste
- 1 8 ounce cream cheese block room temperature
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
Saskatoon Berry Filling
- 4 cups Saskatoon Berries fresh or frozen
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water
Whip Cream Topping
- 1 pint whipping cream or 1 package Dream Whip
- 1/4 cup Graham Wafer crumbs
Combine butter, Graham Wafer crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Press into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan.
Using an electric mixer, combine softened cream cheese, beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla. Mix until no lumps are visible. Spread evenly over the crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool.
Saskatoon Berry Filling
Mix cornstarch and water in a glass until smooth and set aside. In a large saucepan place berries, water and sugar and bring to a boil. Stir in cornstarch mixture and continue boiling until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
Spread Saskatoon Berry filling over the cooled cream cheese layer.
Cool before adding whip cream topping.
Whip Cream Topping
Whip cream or Dream Whip until stiff. Once Saskatoon Berry layer is cool, spread whip cream on top.
Sprinkle with remaining Graham Wafer crumbs. Refrigerate.
I prefer to use Dream Whip as it providers a firmer top layer.
Have you eaten Saskatoon Berries?
Shirley has been sharing her enthusiastic story telling ability all of her life. Proud to call Saskatchewan, Canada home for more than 80 years, her love of new experiences, challenges and adventures reaches far beyond her prairie roots. Once retired from farming and working as an administrative assistant, Shirley studied and received her high school diploma at the age of 70. At 77 she published her first book and now in her 80’s is a regular contributor at Travel Tales of Life.
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