Recipe: Saskatoon berry drink mix, two ways.

It’s saskatoon (serviceberry) season and it shows by the amount of clicks I’m currently getting on this post, which I put up waaaaaaay back in 2012.  I realized the original post was in need of a bit of an update, as the u-pick farm I mention in it has undergone a name change…as well, I have a new saskatoon berry drink mix recipe to add!

The saskatoon berries are here!  The saskatoon berries are here!

Last Saturday my hubby and I spent a VERY long time in the sweltering morning sun gathering saskatoons at a wonderful nearby U-Pick farm, Little Purple Apple (now called Prairie Berry). We may be the slowest berry pickers in the world…BUT I didn’t have to do much sorting when we got home.  We snagged only (mostly?) the ripe ones, with barely any leaf litter or roving bugs.  Saskatoon berries are easy to pick, and they don’t have the soft skins of blueberries or haskap, so they don’t bruise easily.  We still came off of the field with stains on our hands, though!

I have big plans for our bounty!   Some of the berries are already scrubbed, bagged whole, and set in the freezer for use in pies at a later date.  Others were crushed and sent into the dye pot – saskatoon berries make a great dye in the red-purple range.  A sizeable batch of jam is on my list of things to do this afternoon, and a quick assembly of a saskatoon and rhubarb cobbler is in the works for tonight’s dessert.

One of the workers at Little Purple Apple (Prairie Berry) was telling me about some saskatoon syrup they had preserved for sale to the customers; she said if you weren’t inclined to put it on your pancakes, you could add a small amount to ice water for a refreshing summery drink.  Of course, that got the ol’ gears grinding, and I thought perhaps I could create my own version of the recipe at home.   Here is my take:

Saskatoon Berry Drink Mix Version #1

3 cups washed saskatoon berries, crushed with a mortar and pestle or a potato masher

1 1/2 cups water

Place in a large saucepan and heat to boiling.  Boil hard for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

While you’re waiting, make the simple syrup.  Mix 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 3/4 cups of water together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on the stove.  Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar.  Once the mixture is boiling, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool.  (If you want to make your syrup thicker, you can step up the ratio of sugar:water).

Once your ingredients have cooled, run the berries and water through a metal sieve, reserving the liquid.  Press the berries into the sieve with the back of a spoon to get all of the juice out.  You will end up with some berry pulp in the sieve – don’t discard it!  I put mine in the freezer for use in muffins or cake later on.

Run the saskatoon berry liquid through an even finer sieve if you have one (tightly-woven cheesecloth if you don’t).  The idea is to make the syrup as clear as possible.

Combine the sugar and the berry juice together and process (if you’re canning it) and store in your usual way.  This recipe makes about 3 cups of syrup.  I’m just keeping my syrup in the fridge, as I know I’ll use it up fairly quickly.  When you want to drink it, just place a few tablespoonsful in a tall glass and add chilled water, diluting the syrup to your taste.  (I think a carbonated water would work very nicely, as well).  You could probably add a couple of fresh mint leaves or a squeeze of lemon to your drink, but for me, the sweet nutty flavour of the berries is wonderful on its own!

If you don’t have saskatoons, I think this would work nicely using blueberries…or maybe, with the correct ratio of sugar, red currants.

Saskatoon Berry Drink Mix Version #2 (no simple syrup)

Here’s another version that doesn’t use a simple syrup.  It’s quicker to prepare than the previous recipe, as well.  Store leftover mix in the fridge and use up within three days.

3 cups washed saskatoon berries, crushed with a mortar and pestle or a potato masher

1 1/2 cups water

Place in a large saucepan and heat to boiling.  Boil hard for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Once your ingredients have cooled, run the berries and water through a metal sieve, reserving the liquid.  Press the berries into the sieve with the back of a spoon to get all of the juice out.  You will end up with some berry pulp in the sieve – don’t discard it!  I put mine in the freezer for use in muffins or cake later on.

Run the saskatoon berry liquid through an even finer sieve if you have one (tightly-woven cheesecloth if you don’t).  The idea is to make the syrup as clear as possible.

When you’re ready to drink, pour some of the mix over crushed ice in a tall glass, add water or sparkling water, and a drizzle of honey or other sweetener.  Adjust to your taste and enjoy!

Do you grow or harvest saskatoons (serviceberries)? What are your favourite saskatoon berry recipes?

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Interesting facts about dandelions.

I’m revisiting an old post that usually sees a bit of traffic at this time of year…but it’s NEW AND IMPROVED! I’ve added a new photo and some new facts, and updated some links.  I hope you enjoy the extras! 

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Dandelions, dandelions everywhere! The City has reduced its herbicide use over the past few years, which is a very good thing – dandelions are, after all, one of the best early pollinator plants around!

Just for fun, I dug up some Interesting Facts about Dandelions:

The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” – lion’s tooth, which refers to the serrated leaves.

Another folk name for dandelion is “swine snort,” which makes me want to sneeze or giggle or both.

Taraxacum officinale is a perennial, but there are some dandelion species that are biennial.

If you mow dandelions, they’ll grow shorter stalks to spite you.

Dandelion pollen cannot cause allergies – the grains are far too large to be bothersome, but you can get contact dermatitis from the milky sap (latex) that the plant contains.

Dandelions open in the daytime and close at night.

Dandelion seed can travel up to 8 kilometres (5 miles).

Dandelion flower heads can be used to make dye in the yellow-green range.  The leaves will make a purple dye.

Dandelions will produce more seed than usual if their habitat is disturbed, giving them a competitive edge over other plants in the area.

Dandelions have a taproot which can extend up to a whopping 4.5 metres (15 feet) underground, although you’ll typically find them top out at 45 cm (18″), which is still pretty long.

The taproot of dandelions is very useful to reduce compaction in garden soil.

Dandelions are dynamic accumulators – that means they can draw nutrients such as nitrogen from the soil and concentrate them in their leaves and roots.

The parts of the dandelion apparently represent the celestial bodies: the yellow flower head is the sun, the white seed head is the moon, and the seeds are the stars as they spread all over the galaxy (read: your lawn).

What we think of as the petals of a dandelion flower are actually individual flowers themselves. They will produce fruit called achenes, followed by the tiny, barbed brown seed and it’s accompanying “parachute” (called a pappus) that helps it disperse in the wind.

Dandelion flowers do not need to be pollinated to form seed.

Dandelions likely originated in Eurasia 30 million years ago.

Dandelions are known as ruderals or pioneer plants, the first to colonize disturbed land (such as after a wildfire).

Dandelion blossoms have been historically used to treat warts, clear skin complexion, and heal blisters.

 I read that there is some sort of idea to use the latex in the future to make rubber tires for automobiles – we’ll see how that turns out.  UPDATE: There is an article about the concept here.

Dandelion roots can be used as a coffee substitute, much like chicory.

I had no idea, but dandelion roots can also be used to make beer – here is one recipe I found, which also uses burdock roots.

Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and the minerals calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.

Some children’s books (fiction and non-fiction) about dandelions include: Joseph P. Anthony’s The Dandelion Seed, L. Kite’s Dandelion Adventures, and two sets of  books with the same title, From Seed to Dandelion, by Jan Kottke and Ellen Weiss, and Dandelions, by Kathleen Kudlinski and Eve Bunting.  I reviewed Kevin Sheehan’s The Dandelion’s Tale a few years ago on my now-defunct blog The Door is Ajar – you can find my thoughts here.

Did you know there is a dandelion tree?  Well, not really…it’s another case of the utter inaccuracy of most common names. Despite this, Dendroseris pruinata is fascinating and rare, and you can take a look at some photos of it here.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s tallest dandelion was grown here in Canada (in Ontario), and was found in September of 2011.  It topped out at a whopping 177.8 cm (70 inches).  Apparently, there have been at least two (maybe three?) record-breaking dandelions grown since then, but there is some dispute over whether any of them – even the record-holder – are actually dandelions at all.  Read all about the controversy here!  (This one in Norfolk certainly seems a little suspicious…).

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I found this strange dandelion specimen on Nose Hill, in Calgary – it looks like it might be a type of fasciation.  The fifth flower head actually drove through the centre stem, which was massively enlarged and already sported four joined flower heads. 

Thank you again for following Flowery Prose!  I truly appreciate your readership!  

Flowery (foliage) Friday.

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Leafy fun with the scanner on my printer….

The leaves haven’t all fallen from the trees yet, but I’m not sure we have much more autumn left in store here on the Prairies – we’re headed straight into winter, it seems! Plenty of snow in some parts already and, as I write this, the white stuff is accumulating on the ground here in Calgary.

Early wishes to everyone in Canada for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

Flowery Friday.

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This is my first year growing ‘Baby Face’ sunflowers – they are amazing! They top out at just under two feet (about 60 cm) and have a ton of long-lasting blooms. I can’t help but smile every time I see them.

Do you have a favourite sunflower cultivar?

 

Book reviews: Water-Smart Gardening and High-Value Veggies.

It’s officially spring! (I’d put a few more exclamation points in there, but I side with many grammarians who believe that as a punctuation mark, they’re utterly overused. Everyone is really excited these days, apparently). But, hey, spring!

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So…although I can’t really do much in the garden just yet except contrive methods of humane squirrel discouragement (why oh why do they have to be so adorable?), I’ve been doing a lot of reading about gardening. There are plenty of new books on the subject being published right about now, and here are two interesting and very relevant titles from Cool Springs Press:

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Water-Smart Gardening:  Save Water, Save Money, and Grow the Garden You Want by Diana Maranhao

I was particularly keen on this title because we just came out of the driest winter I can remember. While it was nice not to have to worry about breaking a wrist from falling on an icy, snow-covered sidewalk, it wasn’t the best situation for the plants. (The verdict is still out whether or not all my perennials made it. And I was recently talking to a fellow gardener at the community garden and she figured that the warm temperatures and lack of snow cover caused some of her fall-planted garlic to rot. I’m so glad I took a cue from last year’s garlic disaster and hadn’t planted any).

Last summer and autumn were hot and dry as well, and there’s no telling how our summer will round out this year. It could be very tricky to keep the plants going. Making sure supplemental irrigation is available has always been a necessity on the Prairies, for farmers and gardeners alike, but what if we have government-imposed water restrictions? Many jurisdictions are forced to go this route when water supply is stretched. As author Maranhao comments, drought is becoming a big issue world-wide, but no one seems to be doing anything concrete about it. This book is her solution to gardening successfully with low water use, and she has all sorts of solid, practical (and often creative) ideas about what to do. She covers plant selection (with a focus on zonal plantings), growing in microclimates, soil health, best planting/cultivation practices, and of course, a host of smart irrigation practices including swales, rain barrels, and in-ground and drip systems.

Maranhao’s most important advice?  “Garden within your environment.” I’m totally with her on that!

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High-Value Veggies: Homegrown Produce Ranked by Value by Mel Bartholomew 

You all know Bartholmew as the creator of square foot gardening, but I must admit I was rather more excited by this book than any others he’s previously written. The concept behind High-Value Veggies is that many of us tend to grow vegetables in our gardens that are already mass-produced and inexpensively-purchased at the grocery stores or local markets. His suggestion is that we abandon the idea of growing those “low-value” crops and instead focus on the ones that are really pricey to buy. He proceeds to break it all down by inputs (tools and equipment, amendments, irrigation) as well as the cost of land and labour and then stacks them up against the potential return on investment (U.S. stats, but likely fairly translatable in Canada and possibly Europe). All of this yields (pun intended) a top ten list of plant selections that Bartholomew profiles in more detail. There are definitely some edible plants that make more economical sense to grow than others!

I was thinking about this in terms of my community garden plot. The restrictions of space mean I need to choose which crops I plant very carefully every year, and although I may not have specifically thought about return on investment, I know I don’t always grow plants that I can buy for a reasonable price from local growers at the farmers’ market.  Bartholomew’s suggestions are seriously worth considering before the seeds are purchased for the year – and it doesn’t matter what scale of gardening you’re doing.

 

*Many thanks to Cool Springs Press for providing copies of these new titles for review. I did not receive any compensation for my opinions, which are my own.

Recipe: Lemon curd.

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I can’t help it – like a zillion other people out there, I associate spring with the colour yellow and the flavours of fresh citrus.  Call it programming or just a craving for something refreshing and sunny and light after a grey winter spent mostly indoors…whatever it is, it’s had me in the kitchen making lemon curd.  Twice in the last few days, actually.  The first batch I made did not contain any egg whites and it had so much sugar in it my brain hurt after the first bite.

Lemon curd should taste like lemons…obviously.

So I changed a few things – the egg combo and the amount of sugar and the quantity of lemons.  Pretty much everything, really.  And I arrived at something that actually tasted like lemons, but not so zingy that you make weird faces while eating it. Unless you want to, that is.

So, here it is.  It’s really good enough to eat straight out of the pan, which I may have done shamelessly did.  You could also slather it on a cake or some cookies, or freeze it so you can eat it on some nebulous future midnight when you can’t sleep.  (It’s good for up to two months in the freezer).

Lemon Curd (the not-too-sweet-tastes-like-lemons version)

2 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 small Meyer lemons, juiced (you could use 3 regular lemons instead)

2 to 3 tbsp unsalted butter

Prepare a double boiler.  Place eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and whisk until smooth.  Place the smaller pan into the double boiler and simmer at medium-low heat.  Frequently whisk the contents.  Don’t leave the kitchen for about ten minutes – the curd sets up all of a sudden and you don’t want to miss it when it does.  When the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove the saucepan from the double boiler and stir in the butter until it is completely melted.  Set the curd aside to cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, then it’s ready to eat.  This recipe makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.

Enjoy!

Do you have any recipes you particularly love to make in the spring?

Go-to gardening books for the Prairies (and beyond!)

Wow!  It feels like spring has sprung here today!  What little snow we had is melting like crazy and we actually had a bit of rain early this morning.  My co-workers and I spent our coffee break talking about starting some tomato seeds and maybe we were a little sugar-buzzed from the pre-Valentine’s Day chocolates and too much coffee, but things got really cheerful…yeah, we’re definitely excited and inspired.  😉

We still have about two (conservative estimate) or three (more like it) months to go before we can get out into the garden proper, but it’s nice to haul out the gardening books and catalogues and get cracking on the planning. I have a few gardening books in my personal collection and regulars I borrow from the library that are definite go-to’s for me.  For the most part, these are all “Prairie” books (hardiness zones 2-4; cold, arid climate), but there are a few more generally Canadian and North American ones that I really love as well.

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Lyndon Penner – The Chinook Short Season Yard: Quick and Beautiful in the Calgary Region (also available as The Prairie Short Season Yard)

Lydon Penner – Garden Design for the Short Season Yard

Dawn Vaessen – Perfect Perennials for the Prairie Gardener (See my review here)

Donna Balzar – Gardening for Goofs

Donna Balzar and Steven Biggs – No Guff Vegetable Gardening

June Flanagan – Native Plants for Prairie Gardens

June Flanagan – Edible Plants for Prairie Gardens

Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner – Gardening, Naturally: A Chemical Free Handbook for the Prairies

Sara Williams – Creating the Prairie Xeriscape

Calgary Horticultural Society – Calgary Gardener, Volumes 1 and 2

Calgary Rose Society – Growing Roses in Calgary  (See my review here)

Millarville Horticultural Society – Gardening Under the Arch

Hugh Skinner – The Best Groundcovers and Vines for the Prairies

Hugh Skinner – The Best Trees and Shrubs for the Prairies

Don Williamson – Tree and Shrub Gardening for Alberta (See my review here)

Barbara Kim and Nora Bryan – The Prairie Winterscape

Nora Bryan and Ruth Staal – The Prairie Gardener’s Book of Bugs (Mentioned here)

Jan Mather – Designing Alberta Gardens

Any of The Prairie Garden annuals

Linda Chalker-Scott – The Informed Gardener

Linda Chalker-Scott – How Plants Work

Niki Jabbour – The Year ‘Round Vegetable Gardener

Niki Jabbour – Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Bill Thorness – Cool Season Gardener

Laura Peters – Small Space Gardening for Canada

Melanie J. Watts – Growing Food in a Short Season

David Bainbridge – Gardening with Less Water

 

Did I miss any cold climate/Prairie books that should be on this list?

No matter where you live in the world, your favourite gardening books might be relevant/practical/inspirational/eye candy for another gardener!  Which books would you recommend for us?