My grandparents moved to the Peace Country in 1930 and settled on a quarter we affectionately call “the old place.” For those who don’t live out west a quarter refers to a quarter section and a section is a square of land measuring a mile on each side and containing 640 acres. A quarter section measures half a mile on each side and holds 160 acres. Out east (and correct me if I’m wrong) I believe they have concessions rather than quarters.
The old place sits a mere four miles from where I live today. I grew up listening to stories about those early homestead years. My grandmother relished the challenge and while she never downplayed the hardships, she managed to tell stories of those early years in a way that made me envious that I had missed it all. There were stories of work bees, community picnics, berry picking and dances along with waking up to icicles hanging from the ceiling and scraping through those first lean winters on a diet of moose meat and Saskatoons.
Saskatoon berries are another western thing. In the east they are called Serviceberries. Whatever name they go by, the settlers did well to include the wild berries in their diet. Saskatoons fall into the elite Super-berry category. They pack more usable energy, protein, fibre, iron, Vitamin C, carbohydrates and potassium than almost any other berry including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. They also provide calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and sulfur and have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral and astringent properties. By eating Saskatoon berries those early pioneers of the Peace were unwittingly providing their families with a powerful vitamin supplement. The only downside is that Saskatoon pits contain cyanide compounds that when eaten in large amounts can cause stomach upsets or diarrhea. Cooking the berries destroys these compounds, so if you’re at all concerned reserve your Saskatoon berry consumption for jams and pies. You gotta do what you gotta do, right? But seriously, eating a reasonable amount of raw berries is going to do your body nothing but good. Everything in moderation.
It’s been over 80 years since my grandparents arrived by horse and wagon, but Saskatoon bushes (though dwindling in numbers) and moose still run wild in the Peace. While canned moose meat and Saskatoon jam paired well in my grandmother’s pantry, the two aren’t so compatible in the wild. In the old days a marauding moose was quickly dispatched and put up in a jar, but since we’re not hunters the moose find no such consequences in our yard. I once watched a cow moose hoover up an entire Saskatoon bush in less than a minute. A few years ago I planted some Saskatoon bushes in what I call “the orchard”. Surrounded by an eight foot high butt-ugly page wire fence, the 64 X 64 foot space keeps a variety of fruit trees and bushes safe from moose with the munchies. Now I can look forward to a crop of Saskatoon bushes and still enjoy watching the moose saunter through our yard.
Here are a few cultivars of Saskatoons you might like to try…
Released in 1952 by the Beaverlodge Research Center, this is full flavoured fruit, exceptionally sweet, large habit, reaching 8 – 10 feet in height. Consistently good yields. The fruit is not as large as the other varieties but it is often preferred for jam and jelly making because of its flavour.
Another release from our own Beaverlodge Research Center, this is a large fruited variety with excellent flavour, and grows to approximately 8 feet. It has a very upright and uniform habit of growth, which makes for easy picking. It produces abundant fruit at a young age. It flowers at least a week later than Smoky which means it often escapes our infamous late spring frosts that can wipe out a berry crop.
This variety also flowers late but is shorter and less prone to suckering so more suitable for small home gardens. It packs a large flavourful fruit. Excellent choice.
If size is what matters this is the one! The Thiessen has huge berries that average 1/2 inch in diameter though the flavor isn’t quite as intense as it is in other varieties. The bush is big as well, growing around 14 feet high.
Do you pick Saskatoon berries? Any memories you’d like to share? What’s your favourite variety? As always, please feel free to comment below!