This guest post was written by Mary Wiens. Mary is an award-winning journalist and producer who can be heard weekdays on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning on 99.1 FM in Toronto. Mary studied journalism at Ryerson University and has been with the CBC for 25 years. We’re running this piece Mary wrote about Saskatoon Berries in the lead up Mother’s Day and the launch of the newest Apron Strings videos. Enjoy.
Growing up in Manitoba in the 1960s and ‘70s, a large family could still be counted as an asset. Much of the work involved actual hands and backs — stacking hay bales on flatbed trailers in the field, and then riding back, one of a jostling group of siblings, to the farmyard where we piled the bales once more into mountainous stacks in the hayshed, supervised impatiently and energetically by our father.
My mother also put the hands and backs of her children to work — in the garden, the kitchen, and in ‘the woods’, as we called the uncultivated land bordering my father’s fields, where we descended during the hottest weeks of the summer to pick plums, chokecherries and saskatoon berries as they ripened.
The saskatoon berries came first. Not quite blueberries, saskatoon berries are a similar dusky blue, but smaller than their central Canada cousin. In fact, saskatoon berries, I discover, are closer to apples in structure than blueberries, with small crunchy seeds at their heart. Their name comes from a Cree word, mis-sask-quah-toomina, simplified by prairie immigrants into ‘saskatoon’.
We children were sent into the woods with plastic pails that had once held ice cream, which we were expected to return, filled with berries. There was much debate about which imaginary line on the bucket walls defined full or half-full, or indeed two-thirds or two-eighths. When you are young, such debates are pleasurable, easily become heated, and occasionally result in violence and overturned pails.
For every berry dropped into our pails, many more were eaten, drenched in the sunshine that also warmed our backs, browned our wiry arms, and found a voice in the summer drone of mosquitoes, butterflies — sometimes accompanied by the sharp bite of a horsefly — and the distinctive trill of the red-winged blackbirds. A June symphony perfectly scored for the seeming eternity required to fill a bucket or engage in mathematical debate.
My mother was fortunate in her brood of nine. Yes, nine. Born diplomat that my mother was, she claimed she would have liked ten. I digress. Although not really, since the warmth of the sun, the sweetness of the berries, and my mother’s innate tact lie at the heart of my recollections about my mother and food.
And of one saskatoon pie in particular.
I was four. My brother a year older. My mother called us from our play in the cow pasture some shouting distance away.
We knew, my brother and I, running towards the house, that she had a piece of pie waiting for us. A glorious piece each, a blessing bestowed on us two middle children, old enough to manage our own forks, but not yet old enough to be sent to school. Later after our older brothers and sisters returned from school, we two would be served a second, much smaller sliver of pie, served with rigorous fairness and attention to size, another of my diplomat-mother’s skills. But that afternoon, as my brother and I raced each other back to savour every warm berry and make sure that not a single flake of pie crust escaped, we ran barefoot in the kingdom of heaven.
I don’t have my mother’s recipe, but here are two others with the ring of authenticity – coming as they do from Saskatoon. My thanks to Wendy Cooper, who serves up her versions of saskatoon pie with testimonials from grateful readers on her blog entitled The Cooking Blog. You can find the recipe here
Saskatoon Berry Pie
- 4c Saskatoon Berries; called Service Berries in the US
- 3/4 cup sugar, granulated
- 3 tb flour
- 1/4 cup water
- Pastry for double crust pie
- 2 tb lemon juice
- In a saucepan, simmer saskatoon berries in water for 10 minutes.
- Add lemon juice.
- Stir in granulated sugar mixed with flour.
- Pour into pastry lined pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust; seal and flute edges.
- Bake in 425F oven for 10 mins; reduce heat to 350F and bake 35-45 minutes longer or until golden brown