Don’t Spurn the Saskatoon

Neither money nor blueberries grow on trees. But saskatoons, says Al Cambronne, are another story.

According to Jeff Foxworthy, “If people from the city ask permission to hunt in your front yard... you just might be a redneck.” I’m not quite there. Last week, however, we did discover people from the city picking blueberries near the end of our driveway.

We’ve picked a few ourselves, and on Sunday afternoon there were almost as many cars parked at the side of certain back-country dirt roads as you’d see on opening morning of deer season. It’s tough enough competing with all the bears out there. But oddly enough, the saskatoons are safe. Other than the bears, no one is touching them.

Saskatoons, also known as juneberries and serviceberries, are found found all across western Canada and the north-central U.S. Throughout much of that territory, saskatoons are the Rodney Dangerfield of wild berries. They get no respect.

Wild saskatoons tend to ripen around the same time as blueberries. Saskatoon bushes, and sometimes even small saskatoon trees, often sprout up right in the middle of blueberry patches. Around here most people ignore them. I can almost imagine berry pickers warning the children: “Don’t eat that! It’s not a blueberry! You’ll get sick!”

Saskatoons are a traditional staple among the Cree and Ojibwe, and in Saskatchewan there’s a fair-sized city named after them. (As far as I know, Saskatoon is the world’s largest city named after a berry.) So maybe saskatoons are better appreciated in that neighborhood.

Like blueberries, saskatoons are now a domesticated agricultural crop. Although we live south of the border, we occasionally spot saskatoon jam at the grocery store. But like blueberries, farmed saskatoons can’t quite match the flavor of genuine wild berries.

The berries themselves grow in clusters, and resemble a large, reddish-purple blueberry. They have a higher sugar content, but still all of the antioxidants and other good stuff that blueberries do. They taste sweeter than blueberries, with a flavor that’s hard to describe—maybe halfway between blueberries and cherries, with a hint of peach or apricot. Saskatoon pancakes? Saskatoon pie? Saskatoon cobbler? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

But if you’d prefer to continue turning up your nose at saskatoons, fine by me. That only means more for the rest of us—including the bears.

Al Cambronne is the author of Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. His most recent book is DEERLAND: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. On Twitter: @AlCambronne.