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Saturday, November 29, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2014

COMMENTARY

Give it up for the Saskatoon berry

BY MARY BILYEU
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

It‘‍s not the Sasquatch berry.

It’‍s not the Sacagawea berry.

It‘‍s the Saskatoon berry. And it’‍s all the rage, even if people seem to have some difficulty remembering its name. Pretty soon, everyone will know it and rave about it.

Saskatoons look a lot like blueberries, though with significant patches of reddish-pink, as well.

According to SaskatoonMichigan.com, the Saskatoon berries are a superfruit, so named ”for their superior level of health benefits.“ They contain significant quantities of antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation in the body, as well as lowering risks for heart disease, Alzheimer‘‍s, and diabetes. They’‍re high in fiber, so they help with digestion while also working to control blood sugar levels.

The taste, according to a report last week on NPR, ranges from berry and cherry to peach and almond. “Every time I eat them I get a different flavor,” said Steve DuCheney, a cabinet maker who is now one of approximately 20 saskatoon farmers in northern Michigan. The berry is becoming the proverbial ”next big thing“ as it makes its way south from its native territory in the Canadian prairie provinces. More and more plants are being cultivated and harvested, with the fruits being distributed throughout the Lower Peninsula now, whereas the saskatoon used to be primarily wild-grown until 30 years ago or so.

Unfortunately, while it‘‍s easy to find sources for plantings online, I’‍ve found it’‍s very difficult to find the fruits themselves or products made with them. Local stores aren‘‍t carrying them. (Who wants to be the first? Let me know when you’‍ve got them and I‘‍ll spread the word.)

Even Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor -- a place that many Toledoans tell me they make regular pilgrimages to -- doesn’‍t stock them. So my own curious palate hasn‘‍t been able to luxuriate over the berries or try to dissect any sort of flavor profile from them ... yet. Stay tuned to The Toledo Blade Food Page on Facebook for updates, as I’‍ve been furiously searching and calling to find something, anything to sample. This is close to the prime season, from late June to early July, so maybe soon ...?

Although they resemble blueberries and have a taste reminiscent of several fruits and nuts, saskatoons are botanically related to apples. And, according to the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America, other names (which might be more familiar to you than they were to me) include juneberry, pigeon berry, prairie berry, serviceberry, and shadbush. ”The saskatoon name,“according to the Institute,” is reportedly an anglicization from the Cree language word misâskwatômina (Mis-sack-qua-too-mina), which means ’‍‘‍“the fruit of the tree of many branches.’”‍

As for the eating possibilities -- to some of us, the most important tidbit of information -- the berries can be used raw, cooked, baked, dried ... any way that you might use blueberries. Muffins? Pies? Jams? All of them could be on the menu.

That so much information was available online about these amazing fruits makes me wonder -- especially as a former Michigan resident -- why I hadn‘‍t heard of them before. Perhaps they needed a marketing rep? It seems they may have finally found a p.r. firm.

Pomegranates, tart cherries, and açaí have all had their moments of glory in recent years.

Now it’‍s time for the saskatoon to shine in the superfruit spotlight.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 
mbilyeu@theblade.com
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



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