(Thanks so much to volunteer Nicole Hergert for sharing this story. If you have a story to share about your fruit picking adventures, by all means send it along to email@example.com.)
It was a warm night early in the summer that a friend of mine showed me his pride and joy: a saskatoon tree in his garden. The four of us, he and his partner, myself and mine, enjoyed a moment of conspiratorial glee as we chuckled about having such a tree here in Toronto.
Three of the four of us grew up out west where saskatoons are a staple of the summer diet: saskatoon pie, saskatoon syrup, fresh saskatoons and cream, you name it we put saskatoons in it or on it. But all three of us firmly believed that saskatoons didn’t grow in Toronto, that they were a Prairie speciality….
Two weeks later we discovered we were wrong. Saskatoons grow everywhere here. Our first discovery was behind Trinity-St Paul’s Church at Bloor and Robert, then on the grounds of U of T, the reservoir at Spadina and St Clair and in yards all over the Annex. My partner and I quickly became expert saskatoon spotters, calling out particularly good finds to each other while commuting on our bikes.
We also noticed no one seemed to be picking them? These delicious nutty berries didn’t seem to exist in the Toronto consciousness, people or birds. We found trees laden with berries, begging to be picked, shimmering on their stalks in the sun. We began carrying tupperware containers with us to bring the berries home, if just to spare my bike helmet from saskatoon stains. No one seemed to mind if we offered to pick the berries hanging low on the branches in their front yards, in fact most people were surprised to hear that they were edible and few wary of our offer to sample them.
Knowing that we couldn’t possibly continue to eat handfuls of berries, I tried my hand at saskatoon syrup and saskatoon pie – both have met with rave reviews and are easy to make.
I have included the recipe for syrup below so that you can enjoy saskatoons next year. Unfortunately, saskatoon season has passed for this year – but if you stop by my place I have jars of saskatoon syrup just waiting for ice cream.
Easy Saskatoon Syrup
3 cups of fresh (or frozen) saskatoons
1 cup of water
1 tsp almond extract*
1 Tbsp of cornstarch (optional)**
Combine berries, water and almond extract in a large pot.
Bring water to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Lightly crush berries with a potato masher.
Add cornstarch if you wish for a thicker syrup, stir well so there are no lumps
Cool and serve or can while hot.
*Almond extract enhances the nutty flavour of the berry but vanilla or cinnamon would work as well
**I do not use sugar with saskatoons but you can add sugar at the same time as the cornstarch. According to saskatoon experts: saskatoons should never be cooked with sugar, it toughens the skin and reduces the flavour
To make the syrup into pie, I pre baked a pie crust (I cheated and used a frozen one), filled the crust with syrup and heated it up in the oven. Served with fresh cream it was a hit!