Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 20 February 2007.
I have been reading about the health benefits of Saskatchewan berries. And there are many. Berries are full of antioxidants which are credited with preventing cancer, reducing heart disease and even slowing the affects of aging. According to many studies, berries are better for you than most other fruits. Even strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges. So, if berries are such a wonder food, it’s a wonder that we don’t eat more of them.
My husband and I got hooked on berries during our all-Saskatchewan diet, during which we tried to eat only foods that were grown or produced in Saskatchewan. Berries were an important part of that. With few other fruits grown in Saskatchewan, we stocked up on raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, saskatoons and sour cherries. We picked most of the berries ourselves, either in the wild, in backyards (with permission, of course) or at U-Pick farms.
One day last August, I took a drive up to La Ronge to hunt for wild mushrooms but instead found an abundance of blueberries on the forest floor. I sat and picked for hours. I also made a trip to St. Walburg for the annual Wild Blueberry Festival. It was amazing to see so many people having so much fun in one little town. The lineup at the blueberry tables began well before 9:00 a.m., when the town clock signaled the start of sales. In some years, the blueberries are sold out quickly, but this was a good year for blueberries and there were plenty to go around.
One summer a few years ago, while canoeing north of La Ronge with friends Tom and Magda, we camped on an island that was blanketed in low bush cranberries. So, while the guys pitched the tents, the gals picked as many cranberries as we could by the fading light. Back in Saskatoon, we turned the berries over to Tom’s wife Eva, who made a delicious preserve she calls by the Polish word, borowki. In Europe, they are also known as lingonberries, the national fruit of Sweden.
Thankfully, residents of Saskatoon no longer have to drive north for wild blueberries and lingonberries. Tony Kustiak of Shellbrook is now selling them at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and the Steep Hill Co-op. He says the berries are picked around Turner Lake and La Loche beginning in mid-September. He sells them fresh in summer and frozen in winter.
"An older gentleman from Germany who came to Canada many years ago said he hadn’t seen lingonberries since he was a little boy. He bought a big bag of them," says Tony. My husband puts Tony’s blueberries on his cereal every morning and on Valentine’s Day, he made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I usually cook a "red" dinner on Valentine’s Day. Last year, we had a beet salad with rare steaks and a Saskatchewan sour cherry pie. This year, it was a berry red dinner: leg of lamb with Eva’s borowki preserves, wild rice salad with dried sour cherries, and for dessert, lingonberry pastry pinwheels.
Lingonberry Pastry Pinwheels
1 half package puff pastry
1/2 cup frozen lingonberries
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. honey
pinch of grated orange rind
In a spice grinder or food processor, grind the berries and walnuts until they are roughly chopped. Mix them with the sugar, honey and a small pinch of orange rind. You can taste it and add more orange rind if you like. Roll the pastry in to a rectangle. Spread the berry mixture over the pastry. Roll the long sides of the pastry toward the middle, so that the two rolls meet in the middle. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 1/2-inch (1 cm) slices. Place the slices flat on a cookie sheet. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I shaped the bottom of each roll into a point, so that they looked like hearts. Bake at 400F. for about 12 minutes.