The Saskatoon Berry: Superfood Sensation
What Is in a Name? A Saskatoon by Any Other Is Still a Superfood!
The saskatoon berries that ripened yearly on the ancient bushes on my childhood farm on the Canadian prairies are the same berries that are now being lauded as the next big superfood. American entrepreneurs striving to cash in on the berry's nutritional pedigree are said to find the Aboriginal name un-marketable, and have leaned heavily on rebranding it as the "June Berry."
The name "saskatoon" derives from the indigenous Cree word "misâskwatômina," and the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is so-named because of the abundance of this wild edible plant found there prior to urbanization. The First Nations peoples had great respect for the saskatoon that was dried and mixed with buffalo tallow to be stored and consumed over the long frigid winters as a vital energy and survival food called "pemmican." Pemmican, hundreds of years old. has been discovered to have many of the same health virtues of the original berry-buffalo fat formulation.
Bears also love saskatoons, and many a berry picker has lived to tell the story of a surprise encounter with a bear on the other side of the bush.
What makes the saskatoon berry a superfood? Saskatoon berries, while looking a lot like blueberries, one of the darlings of more recent superfood stature, have a lot higher antioxidant level than the blueberry, and higher than even açaí and the goji berry. The phyto-nutrients in saskatoons called anthrocyathins are the antioxidants that scavenge out free radicals, like a hungry prairie black bear will scavenge all the berries out of the bushes, given half a chance.
The berries are also a rich source of fibre, magnesium, calcium and manganese.
Frozen berries retain all the nutrients of fresh berries! If you are taken with the recipes and the nutrient profile of the berries, it is highly likely you will be able to find some frozen berries in the freezers at health stores. They also grow prolifically through Canada and many parts of the United States. Nurseries now carry a variety of cultivated saskatoon berry plants.
I generally come in with berries from my bushes in my suburban back-yard on Vancouver Island, soak them for about 20 minutes in a dilute wash of Apple Cider Vinegar and water, pat them dry, and freeze them on a cookie pan first before transferring them to freezer bags. It's a satisfying, easy task.
The saskatoon berry benefits total body health by:
- preventing inflammation and helping to lower chronic inflammation that can lead to a number of life-stunting diseases like arthritis and dementia
- protecting against heart disease by regulating the "bad" cholesterol, LDL, or low-density lipoprotein
- regulating blood sugar and insulin levels and keeping elimination regular, thanks to the high fibre-water content
- preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Recipes Old and New
If you grew up in places where saskatoons (june berries) grew wild, you have likely spread your toast with saskatoon jam, and eaten saskatoon pie on your granny's lap. The five recipes that follow blend some of the traditional ingredients with some of the more recent health-indexed adaptations, as follows:
- The Saskatoon Berry-Butter Tart is vegan—made without butter or eggs. You are welcome, of course, to re-adapt it to your own preferences.
- The Saskatoon Berry-Rosemary Scone is vegan as well. It is made with a combination of spelt flour and organic unbleached flour. You can go ahead and make it gluten-free by substituting your favourite gluten-free flour. Organic spelt flour is generally more easily metabolized than regular wheat flour by people who have minor gluten sensitivies.
- The Saskatoon Berry Oat Muffins are vegan and gluten-free (made with gluten-free oat flour). There is no salt in the recipe and you might like to add a little, or perhaps a teaspoon of lemon zest. This is a lovely, yummy, and filling muffin that is a real treat for breakfast.
- The Saskatoon Berry and Apple Ensalata is vegan and gluten-free.
Saskatoon Berry-Butter Tarts: A Saskatchewan Standard
Saskatchewan festivities always include some form of the butter tart, a sweet, drippy, rich confection that tastes a lot like a brown sugar quiche might, if there were such a thing. So, of course, this coldest of the Canadian provinces will take credit for inventing the saskatoon berry-butter tart combination. This recipe has many different renditions on the Internet. The original recipe came from "The Best of Bridge" cookbook. The recipe below has been adapted as a vegan version of the original (no eggs or butter).
Ingredients for the Saskatoon Berry Filling
- 4 Cups Saskatoon Berries, Fresh or Frozen
- 1/4 Cup Water
- 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch, (or Corn Starch)
Ingredients for the Butter Tart Layer
- 2 Tablespoons of Chia Seed, Ground (in a coffee grinder)
- 4-5 Tablespoons of Water
- 1/3 Cup Coconut Oil
- 1 Cup White or Coconut Sugar (Coconut Sugar is less sweet, more butterscotch)
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 Cup Sultanas, or other seedless raisins
Making the Saskatoon Berry Filling
- In a saucepan, mix the berries and water together. Turn on and let simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
- In a medium-size bowl (bigger than a cereal bowl), mix together the sugar and tapioca starch. Add the sugar/starch combination to the berries and stir until smooth.
- Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (or some other non-metal spoon) continue to let the sauce simmer until it becomes slightly thickened.
- Set aside to cool.
Making the Butter Tart Filling
- Make the "chia seed eggs" by whisking together the ground chia seed and water until a syrup-y, raw egg-like texture forms. Put aside for about 15 minutes.
- Over a bowl of hot water, put a same-size bowl with the coconut oil in it.
- In a clean saucepan (you may have put the finished saskatoon berry filling in a bowl and can now wash out and use that saucepan) add the melted coconut oil, sugar, vanilla, sultanas, and "eggs". Whisking or stirring constantly, bring the contents of the pan to a boil over low-medium heat, and continue stirring for the next 3 minutes. It is important not to leave this filling during the cooking process since the chia has a different temperament than eggs and may quickly burn and/or stick to the pot. Remove from the burner.
Helps for Making the Tart Dough
If you are like me and somewhat timid and discouraged with the dough-making process, here is a video to show you how to make a tasty sounding dough (she puts in some almond extract—always a good investment) and then just pats it in without having to wrestle with a rolling pin and having to flour your kitchen counter!
So, go ahead and make Amanda's Olive Oil dough as demonstrated in the video below. If you have a favourite pie recipe of your choice, you can use that as well.
Ingredients for the Olive Oil Pastry
- 1 1/2 Cups and 2 Tablespoons of All-Purpose Flour
- 3/4 Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
- 2 Tablespoons Milk (I use a non-dairy milk as a vegan)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract
Putting the Tarts Together
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit/190 degrees Celsius
- Depending on your dough, either press into the individuals tart shells as shown in video, or if you using a roll-out dough, go ahead and do that, cutting circles to fit your tart shells, and placing the dough in each shell into a muffin tin or on a cookie sheet.
- Spoon a generous tablespoon full of butter tart filling into each shell.
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon full of saskatoon berry filling over the other filling, but do not mix the two.
- Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown.
- Cool and eat. The left-over filling can be frozen and used for more Saskatoon tarts or pies.
Saskatoon Berry-Rosemary Scones
Cooking Time for the Scones
Prep Time: 5 minutes Bake Time: 25 minutes Yields: 6 Scones
These hearty golden vegan scones (no butter, cream, milk or eggs) are delicious for breakfast, lunch or supper, or with tea while you are writing your masterpiece!
Scone Love: The Ingredients
Scones are enjoying a new revival of interest. Perhaps the scone is the new donut? In any case, you will enjoy this healthier version, particularly if you use organic products and can score some freshly picked rosemary. And of course, lovely saskatoon berries (or other berries if you can't find saskatoons). Berries can be frozen or fresh.
As a vegan I use a "chia seed egg" (directions below) but if you must use a real egg, then please do. The recipe calls for a mix of spelt flour and unbleached all-purpose flour, but feel free to use entirely all unbleached flour, or your favourite gluten-free flour.
- 1 Chia Seed Egg (mix together 1 Tablespoon of ground chia seed- grind in a coffee grinder—and 2 1/2 Tablespoons of Water. Stir until fairly viscous, and set aside)
- 3/4 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk, or other non-dairy milk
- 3/4 Cup Spelt Flour
- 1 1/4 Cups Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
- 1/4 Cup Organic Cane Sugar (plus more for Topping)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Rosemary (Just the needles, roughly chopped)
- 6 Tablespoons of Scoopable Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter (not liquid or frozen)
- 1/3 Cup of Saskatoon Berries (organic if possible)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/204 degrees Celsius.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- In the small mixing bowl that contains the chia seed egg, whisk in the almond milk.
- Combine dry ingredients by whisking well in a mixing bowl: spelt flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, organic cane sugar, salt, rosemary.
- Add Coconut Oil to the above mix, cutting with a fork or special pastry cutter until about the mix is about the size of small peas throughout.
- Whisk the almond milk-chia seed egg again, and with a wooden spoon, mix a little at a time into the dry ingredients. Add the saskatoon berries and gently fold in. (Overworked dough results in tougher scones).
- Gently transfer the dough to a floured board and form into disk with your hands that is about 1 inch high and the size of a regular pie in circumference. With a sharp knife, cut the "pie" into six equal-size wedges.
- Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the tops of the wedges.
- Bake until golden brown and fluffy for about 22 - 27 minutes. Cool slightly before eating. They are best fresh, but leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container for about 3 days. Yummy plain with tea, or with a little whatever you desire on top. Inspiration for the adaptations to a recipe by The Minimalist Baker.
Cooking Time for the Muffins
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cooking Time: 23 minutes
Makes: 6 larger muffins or 12 mini-muffins
Saskatoon Berry-Oat Muffins (Oil Free and Gluten-Free)
- 1 1/2 Cups Oat Flour (I ground my own in the Vitamix using Steel Cut Oats)
- 1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar
- 1 very ripe Banana
- 3/4 Cup Non-Dairy Milk, your choice
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Cup Frozen Saskatoon Berries
- A Little Extra Coconut Sugar to sprinkle on the top before baking
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/ 177 degrees Celsius
- Combine the following in the blender and blend on high: banana, non-dairy milk, vanilla and coconut sugar
- Stir the flour and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl
- Add the wet blender mix to the dry mix and stir to combine
- Fold in the saskatoon berries very gently
- Spoon the mix into paper liners in your muffin pan (or you could lightly oil the cups, or do what I do, use a silicone muffin pan.)
- Sprinkle coconut sugar on tops of muffins
- Bake for 22 to 24 minutes.
- Cool in pans on the rack for at least 10 minutes before removing the muffins from the cups.
Yummy when warm. Extras can be kept in fridge or in freezer.
Inspiration for these muffins came from a vegan blueberry muffin recipe at Feasting On Fruit blog.
Saskatoon Berry-Apple Ensalata
We are calling this final saskatoon berry and apple salad recipe an "ensalata" because it has tasty, piquant flavours that would seem to be a sort of Hispanic-Saskatchewan fusion. We like to do many of our main dishes up as "bowls" and the ensalata fits nicely into whatever we happen to be eating as entrees. The above photo shows the ensalata as an island in the middle of a mixed vegetable sea: rosemary apple sausage, broccoli, mushrooms, green beans, garlic, and sweet potato. The ensalata supplies the fresh, fruity flavours, along with some crunch (apples) and pop (the berries).
Ingredients for the Ensalata
- 2 Tablespoons, peeled and chopped fresh Ginger
- 1 Teaspoon Lime skin, grated (zest) and 1/4 Cup Fresh Lime Juice
- 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup (or sweetener of choice)
- 1/4 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder (or use your favourite hotness)
- 2 Cups Saskatoon Berries, frozen
- 2 Cups Granny Smith Apple, peeled and diced
- 1/2 Cup Red Onion, between minced and diced
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, chopped
- 1/4 Cup of Camelina Oil or other oil (optional)
Mix together in a medium size salad bowl and serve.