Berry Me

Out here on the Canadian prairies, we can’t seem to grow much fruit other than berries. We can squeeze out apples okay, and the odd person has a pear or plum tree that manages to survive, but other than that – it is berries all the way. Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, choke cherries and Saskatoon berries, to name a few. Because I want to eat as local as I can, I am getting in on the berry action by growing some in my yard and picking some at local U-pick farms. There is nothing better than live berries off the vine!

Raspberries – we have grown raspberries in our yard for a while as a raspberry patch came with our house, lovingly planted by the family before us. It has been a good year for them due to all the rain, making those berries relentless in their need to be picked. Everyday new ones ripen, and if you miss a few days you kick yourself, as they start to wilt and rot. It was a goal of mine to have very little raspberry wastage this year. Alas, waste did occur. Sometimes I just didn’t make it out in time, or was out of town… I did manage to pick quite a few though, and my kids have had freshly picked raspberries on their cereal for weeks.

This year I topped up my raspberry collection by going to a U-pick (Roy’s Raspberries) and picked 5 lbs in only 30 minutes, all for only $18! These berries were so easy to pick (unlike my patch where the canes are falling all over each other). I will make some of them into jam, and will freeze the rest for winter smoothies and baking.

Now for strawberries – I planted a patch this year of 16 plants, some June bearing (which is actually July here), some ever bearing. They are doing marvellous! With their big shiny triple leaves, lots of white flowers, and now suckers everywhere ready to make new plants for next year – what’s not to love? Here are the plants earlier in the season:

I pinched off some of the flowers this year (on the advice from a book I read) to strengthen the plants to ensure a bountiful harvest next year. We will see! As it stands, my kids love these berries so much that every time we are outside they go snacking. They call it the strawberry store. Let’s just say that precious few berries ever even make it into the house. So I want to expand the patch next year, I just need to find/decide on a spot.

To supplement our strawberry store, I went U-picking with the kids twice – once around town (Happy Acres U-Pick) and once near my parent’s cabin at the lake (Moe’s Gardens & Greenhouses). We jammed some, ate some, froze some.  Here are some berries mid-jam:

On to Cherries – I have a Nanking Cherry tree in my yard that I bought about 7 years ago for its display of flowers in spring. It delivers on the flowers alright – it is my absolute favourite part of my yard in early spring!

But I never knew until this year that its berries were edible. No idea! So I tried them for the first time this year. Pretty good! A bit tart, but very juicy and succulent. My kids also liked picking these off the tree and popping them in their mouths, although my three year-old had problems with the pits. After considerable snacking, I picked the tree clean and got only 2 cups, from which I made a single jar of jam. Maybe the bees forgot to visit my tree?

Blueberries – the low bush variety grows wild here, and as kids we used to pick them in the pine forest next to my parent’s cabin. They are really tiny though, and took a long time to pick. Plus the bears really love them, so depending on the time of year, you could run in to one… So I decided to plant my own and got 2 high bush varieties that produce lots of slightly bigger berries. I bought special ones that are hardy to -35ºC (-31ºF) so that they would stand a chance here (Polaris and Northland, with Polaris being my clear favourite). Unfortunately, my two bushes together have produced a grand total of about 15 berries. I know it is the first year and all – but 15? Come on! I think I planted them in the wrong spot, they need more sun. I plan to buy 2 – 4 more bushes next year, but need to weave some magic in order to find a spot for them in my small urban yard. Back alley? Next to the sidewalk? Crammed into a garden bed?

A maturing Polaris blueberry (Vaccinium corymb...

Image via Wikipedia - Polaris Blueberry

On to Saskatoon berries – these grow wild! There are dozens of trees at my parent’s cabin, something I had never realized before. I have grown up there in the summers, and never knew the bounty of fruit that lay hidden in the forest! But this year I have been noticing nature around me more, appreciating it, looking deeper in the forest to identify different types of trees. Hidden amongst all the others, there they were, standing tall with dark purple berries aplenty. Can you spot them?

So there is no need to find a place in my yard to plant these – I can forage! I picked enough for a batch of jam in July, my mom picked bunch for another batch of jam this weekend, and my sister and I picked even more. What else should we do with them? Saskatoon berry syrup? Freeze for baking? Maybe a bit of both. Saskatoons have a unique tart flavour that is quite decadent when sweetened. Plus they are native here, they grew here first. I like that idea, we don’t get much of that here… So as I picked them in the forest, listening to the waves lap up on the beach a few meters away, I imagined myself 300 years ago… would I be gathering berries for my family this way?

All in all, it has been a berry good experience (I know, I know, I couldn’t resist).

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15 thoughts on “Berry Me

  1. We grow raspberries, strawberries, and a pathetically small amount of saskatoon berries. I take the kids every year to the u-picks though to increase the amount of saskatoons. Our favourite way to eat them is saskatoon crisp or saskatoon muffins…yum!

  2. Great pics!
    ‘m jealous of your raspberries – it’s been a very dry hot summer in northern Ontario so there are very few of them around (we depend on wild ones, not having any in our garden). Tomorrow I hope to get out blueberry picking for the first time this summer – again, I’ve heard the berries in general are not very plentiful because of the dry summer, but there’s an occasional abundant patch here and there. Wish me luck!

  3. Hi Sherry Greens. Thanks for your comments on my blog. Funny, I am also going to write a blog post about my berry picking adventures here in Montana. I guess Saskatoon berries here are called Service berries. My boyfriend and I first thought they were huckleberries, buy whatever they’re called, they’re excellent. We have picked 11 quarts so far!

    • Yes they are called service berries, also June berries I think! They are such an interesting berry, very high in antioxidents, maybe they will be the next super berry! I just picked another 9 cups worth and froze them!

  4. Berry good collection there! (Oh I couldn’t resist)
    Seriously though, if there was any fruits to be had in your area, berries would be high on my list. I haven’t heard of the choke cherry or the saskatoon berries before, so it’s interesting to read of them. The good thing about working with berries is that you can work them into so many different ways. Enjoy the berry goodness!

    • Thank you berry much (couldn’t resist)! I love all the berries but do secretly also wish we were able to grow peaches or pears or some kind of fleshy fruit too. But I just secured a deal with my next door neighbour last night – I can pick their apple tree clean in exchange for some jars of homemade apple butter and apple sauce! Now I just need to figure out how to make apple butter and apple sauce….

  5. This is great, Sherry! You’ve managed to get enough berries for your immediate (snacking) and future (preserved) needs with a combination of growing them in your backyard, heading to farms to pick your own, and foraging. That shows dedication and open-mindedness. Your kids are lucky to be learning so much about all of the different places where food comes from.

    • Yes I am hoping to combat the question my 5 year old asked me at the beginning of the season – can we plant a pizza tree? Imagine a pizza tree with little round pizzas dangling from it?

      But I still have a long way to go though in terms of preserving if I want to eat local fare all year round. So – apples here I come! I also secured a box of peaches as my husband was in BC this weekend and grabbed a box from a farm while he was there. If you get food while travelling there anyway, does it still count as local?

  6. Sherry, thanks for commenting on my blog ! That of course led me to yours and it was worth the tank of gas and travel mug of fair exchange coffee to get here. On the way home I will probably stop for a Suzy Q because I am…weak.

    Fantastic post and great berrie pics/tutorial. Lets keep in touch!

  7. Pingback: Blogiversary | One Earth to Live

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