BY CYMBRE FOSTER Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Saskatoon berry has it all.
It’s versatile in the kitchen, nutrient dense and easy to grow — what more could you ask for in a fruit?
Although it is a relative newcomer to local farm markets, the Saskatoon is gaining in popularity. You can give the berries a try when a couple of U-pick Saskatoon stands open the first week in July.
“Think of it as a firm blueberry,” said Steve Fouch, who introduced Saskatoons to northern Michigan while a horticulturist with Michigan State University. He is growing two-thirds of an acre of the fruit on M-72, about three and a half miles west of Traverse City.
Saskatoons, also known as service or June berries, are dark blue to purple when ripe but taste more like an apple, said Fouch. Some also describe it as having a slight almond flavor.
The “superfruit” is packed with antioxidants, is a good source of fiber and also is a source of five essential vitamins and minerals.It lends itself to jellies, jams, wine, ice cream toppings, pies, glazes and more.
“It’s a very versatile fruit,” Fouch said. “But there are two things you need to know about it — don’t use too much sugar, and you need to cook them down.”
Unlike a blueberry, a Saskatoon will hold its shape when cooked. So when making jam or pie filling, Fouch suggests mashing a few before filling the jar or crust.
“It mixes well with other fruits, too, like rhubarb, apples and strawberries,” said Steve DuCheney, who grows some 800 plants on an acre on Sayler Road in Williamsburg. He said he was thinking about growing blueberries when he was directed to Fouch, who suggested he try Saskatoons instead.
“This is our first U-pick season and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many flowers were on the bushes this spring,” DuCheney said, adding that pints will sell for $3.50 and quarts for $6.
Lynn McAndrews learned about the hardy fruit five or six years ago at a Michigan State University Extension workshop led by Fouch. She said she took the leap four years ago and planted 10 bushes in her backyard, some of which are already as tall as she is. This year she's looking forward to harvesting her first crop.
Before McAndrews grew her own Saskatoons, she was an annual visitor to Putney’s U-Pick Berries on Love Road just outside of Benzonia in Benzie County.
“I like any kind of berry and this one is easier to grow than blueberries, has more antioxidants than a blueberry and it has kind of a nutty flavor,” she said.
She loves to eat them fresh on cereal or fold them into fruit crisps. The rest go in the freezer.
“You can make anything from them that you can do with other fruit,” she said.
The Saskatoon is already well established in Canada. It doesn’t mind droughts, stands up well to harsh weather and typically ripens before blueberries, which makes it a natural fit for northern Michigan growers like Sid and Melody Hamill, who began planting and growing the berry in 2012 at their Ranch Rudolph in the Boardman Valley. According to their website, the Hamills plan to both bring their fruit to market and to incorporate them into many of the homemade dishes served at the Ranch.
Fouch and his wife, Lisa, sell their Saskatoon jam at a number of farm markets including the farm market at Jacob’s Corn Maze, where their U-pick is located.
If you want to give growing your own Saskatoons a try, DuCheney propagates and sells Saskatoon plants though his business, Michigan Saskatoon Farm and Nursery. For U-pick hours or more information, call 360-0311 or see www.saskatoonmichigan.com.
The Fouch’s U-pick is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday for self-service. For more information, call 632-6293 or visit www.jacobs-corn-maze.com.
Putney’s, located at 7603 Love Road, Benzonia, is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 882-9853.
Boars 'n Berries Saskatoon Berry Scones
3 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. baking powder
2 eggs plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 c.fresh or frozen Saskatoons
1/4 c. sugar for topping
1 egg white for topping, separate in a small bowl
Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease or line 2 baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1/2 c. sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs (saving one white), oil and buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry all at once and stir in, just until blended. Fold in berries and add a little more buttermilk if the batter is dry or very stiff. Spoon batter into prepared pans, making 8-10 servings. Brush each scone with a little of the reserved egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes or until nice and golden and fairly firm to the touch. Cool 5 minutes on pan before serving.
— Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America, via Chef Shona Pearson, Brown Dog Cafe, Vancouver, British Columbia