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?

Fairybells.

Before an absolutely wicked thunderstorm chased us out of the Cross Conservation Area last Thursday afternoon, my hubby and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the aspen forest. The wildflowers have all pretty much finished blooming, and the warm, rich scent of decaying foliage was in the humid, still air. Brown and yellow leaves crunched underfoot and any Saskatoon or currant berries left on the shrubs were shriveled and inedible. (I did manage to find some still-plump chokecherries, though). I guess it all means autumn is really and truly here. I adore this season, but it seems as if I merely blinked, and summer had completed its cycle. It saddens me….

Another sure sign of fall in Alberta is the ripening of the berries of the wildflower fairybells:

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A member of the lily family, rough-fruited fairybells (also called rough-fruited mandarin – Prosartes trachycarpa, formerly Disporum trachycarpum) are a common sight in the damp understorey of the forest.  While their green-white flowers are not quite showy enough to make much of a statement at the height of the summer, you cannot miss the nearly neon red berries that appear at this time of year.  Until I started doing some reading, I didn’t realize the berries were edible, although I’m sure their velvety coating and large, often-numerous seeds (there may be up to 17 in a fruit) must give them a bit of a strange consistency on the tongue.  I haven’t tried one myself, but historically, they were eaten out of hand by the Blackfoot people of the First Nations.  The berries apparently taste like apricots, which REALLY makes me wonder why the Blackfoot called them “dog feet” plants.  I think I much prefer the name “fairybells” – there’s a suggestion of magic and whimsy there that “dog feet” just doesn’t convey….  😉

How are you marking the change of season in your part of the world?

For more information about fairybells, consult Wildflowers of Calgary and Southern Alberta, by France Royer and Richard Dickinson.

Kinnikinnick and Elbow Falls.

My gardening projects these past few days have consisted solely of watering, watering, and watering some more.  It’s bone dry here, and in fact, the province of Alberta is currently under a fire ban, issued this past Saturday.  As I write this, the community of Nordegg, 335 kilometres (208 miles) northwest of Calgary, is threatened by a massive, uncontrolled forest fire.  Over 150 firefighters are battling that blaze and 50 more are fighting a fire outside of the nearby hamlet of Lodgepole.  Hopefully they will bring the fires under control within the next few hours.

The fire ban is in place just in time for the Victoria Day long weekend, considered “opening weekend” for the camping season.  My hubby and I have stopped camping on long weekends – we just cannot face the crowds of people that leave the cities to whoop it up in packed campgrounds.   We’ll head out camping during the shoulder seasons, or during the week, when sites are available and the level of zaniness drops slightly.   Instead, over the next few months, we’ll be focussing on taking day trips to hike or fish or just have a picnic.

Indeed, the prospect of eating portable food by a river in a forested, mountainous area is partly the reason we headed out to Elbow Falls, near the tiny hamlet of Bragg Creek, a couple of Fridays ago.  That, and we hadn’t been out to the Falls in over a decade and we live practically next door to them.

A bit of snow still lingered in the shadows, and the Elbow River was clear and cold.  We watched an American dipper cavort in the water – this was our first time seeing one of these dark brown birds, and it was really entertaining to watch the way they move and feed.  (While my blurry, blobby photos of the little gaffer were good enough to obtain a positive ID from the enthusiastic and extremely helpful birders on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, I’m afraid they’re not quite blog-worthy.  You can read about American dippers and see a decent photo here).

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Elbow Falls

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursicommon bearberry) was growing like mad everywhere you looked, stuffed into every rock crevice and creeping along the pathways.  I’ve always been a  huge fan of this pretty groundcover, with its leathery green leaves that redden beautifully in the fall, and the pale pink flowers followed by bright orange-red berries.   Bearberry has an air of confidence (if plants can have such a thing):  it appears as if it will withstand anything nature can throw at it and look supremely fabulous doing it.   If I had a rock garden, this native would be one of the first plants I’d install.

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While I knew that kinnikinnick berries were edible, I didn’t realize that the plant is such a useful – and complete – food source for many different types of wildlife.  According to this article,  kinnikinnick serves as a  larval food for many species of insects, and butterflies and hummingbirds dine on the plant’s nectar.  The berries are nutrition for bears (of course), deer and coyotes, as well as birds such as evening grosbeaks, sparrows, and grouse.  Deer munch on the plant’s twigs in the dead of winter.  And humans (another type of wildlife, especially on the long weekends 😉 ) have been eating kinnikinnick for centuries – consuming the raw berries or adding them to dried meat and breads, or drinking tea made from the leaves and berries.  It is truly an amazing little shrub.

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(Here’s a view of kinnikinnick berries – I took this photo in the Heart Creek area, near Canmore, Alberta, in August 2010)

What are your favourite food/medicinal wild plants? 

Recipe: Sea buckthorn and apple jelly.

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

My hubby and I managed to get out this past Saturday morning and gather some sea buckthorn fruit so that I could try my hand at making jelly from it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll recall that I made a sea buckthorn beverage last year – I just love the citrusy taste of the berries and their gorgeous sun-bright colour.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a fairly common roadside plant here in Calgary – the City planted many of them years ago, mostly for erosion control on slopes.  It’s one of those shrubs you’d be hard-pressed to kill:  it’s tough-as-nails, drought-tolerant, pollution and salt-tolerant (good for our winter roads and all that de-icing salt), and a fairly aggressive spreader.  You don’t find it employed as an ornamental landscape plant very often, but it’s really very pretty, with silvery-green leaf clusters and the brilliant autumn fruit.  (Both male and female plants are required for fruit production).  Sure, some people may be turned off by the thorns, but they contribute to the shrub’s rabbit and deer resistance, which can’t be a bad thing, right?!

The only thing that irks me to no end about gathering sea buckthorn berries is that it’s just such a difficult process – the fruit only comes off the stems under extreme duress.   The kind of duress that leaves you standing there with bright orange seabuckthorn juice all over your clothes and squirted in your eye.  I’ve read that commercial harvesters of the shrub just go along and prune off fruit-bearing branches, freeze them for awhile, and then “shake” the berries free…but I didn’t give that a go.  I ought to have – it took me FOREVER to get the berries off of the branches.

But it’s worth it for this jelly.  Trust me.  It’s so yummy and pretty!

Small-Batch Sea Buckthorn and Apple Jelly

(I added apples to this recipe because I didn’t use commercial pectin – sea buckthorn doesn’t have very much natural pectin, so the addition of a high-pectin fruit helps the jelly set properly.  I had some British Columbia-grown ‘Sunrise’ apples, but use any variety you love.  Crabapples would work as well).

4 cups sea buckthorn berries, washed thoroughly

3 apples, washed, peeled, cored, and diced finely (if you don’t want to go to the trouble, and your apples are organic, you can leave the peels on)

1/2 cup water

Place berries, apples and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer fruit for 20 minutes.  Stir periodically and crush the fruit against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon.  (It all mashes down pretty well on its own, and won’t require much additional help).

Strain the fruit through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) over a large bowl.  Don’t force the fruit through the bag – this will make the jelly cloudy and you don’t want that!  Set it up so that the fruit can slowly strain overnight.

In the morning, sterilize your canning jars and lids.   Measure out the juice.  I ended up with 2 cups using this recipe, but your measurement may vary slightly.  Place the juice into a saucepan and mix in an equal amount of white sugar.  Bring the sugar and juice to a rolling boil and boil, stirring constantly, until you’ve reached gel point.

Carefully pour the jelly into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (don’t forget to adjust the length of time according to altitude, as specified in this handy chart).  If you plan to eat the jelly soon and don’t want to go to all the trouble of processing jars for storing, you can just pop the jars into the fridge once the jelly is cool.  It is a very small batch, after all…and you’ll be hooked once you have a taste!

Do you grow sea buckthorn in your garden, or do you forage for sea buckthorn berries?  

 Looking for more sea buckthorn berry recipes?

My sea buckthorn berry recipe book, Sea Buckthorn Bounty: Recipes is now available here!

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Recipe: Saskatoon berry drink mix.

NOTE: I’ve updated this post (as of July 2017) – click here for TWO versions of my saskatoon berry drink mix!  

 

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.  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 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

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.

What are your favourite saskatoon berry recipes?