Colourful, Juicy-sweet Summer Gifts
by Sandra Brandt
One of the fabulous things about summer is the abundance of easily accessible fresh fruit. This means really fresh as in fresh picked—rather than the long distance, often bland-tasting versions of supposedly “fresh” produce available in grocery stores year round.
The earliest common fruits we get to enjoy each summer are berries—each one a tiny, colourful, juicy-sweet gift of summer sun, rain, and soil. No poet could ever do justice to these exquisitely luscious little treats.
Historically, berries have been enjoyed around the world, with each region producing its own specialties. Of course, in this province we are especially proud of our abundant crop of Saskatoon berries, both wild and cultivated, with their rich deep colour and their complex texture and flavour. Berries are usually best consumed fresh picked, but drying and fermenting them as beverages have long been common ways to preserve them beyond their growing season. The North American aboriginal diet included a dried mixture of bison meat and berries known as pemmican that could be stored for year round consumption, and was useful as a travelling food.
As the technologies of canning, freezing, sugar preservation, and long-distance transportation of food products have become ever more accessible throughout the 20th century, a small number of specific blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, and blackberry species have become common on store shelves around the globe.
Whether you consume mostly the common generic species, or have access to local and/or more exotic varieties, berries have a lot of nutritional benefits to offer, along with their heavenly taste and food prep versatility. They are known for their antioxidants, flavonoids, and phytochemicals, along with a generous helping of vitamins. Consuming generous amounts of berries can help protect against various diseases and health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, some types of cancer, Parkinson’s, inflammation, infections, cell damage, and mental degeneration. In addition, fresh berries eaten on their own, especially when freshly picked, are a wonderful sweet treat without any added sugar, while the fibre in the berries, as in most fresh fruits, which accompanies their natural sweetness, helps to prevent blood sugar spikes. They are an especially nice snack for toddlers, who can handle their small size easily without having to have them cut them up into smaller bits.
If you have access to more fresh berries than you can eat, freezing is a good option to store for later use. Simply wash the berries gently, drain well, let dry, and place in a single layer on baking sheets. Freeze, then collect the frozen berries off the sheets, bag them, and return them to the freezer. This allows them to remain loose in the bags so you can remove any amount you like when you wish to use some.
Some simple and delectable ways to enjoy berries are eating them with yogurt or cream, perhaps with a small amount of honey or maple syrup, or healthy homemade ice cream; add them to hearty cooked breakfast cereal or raw muesli cereal; add a cup or more of fresh or frozen berries to muffin or pancake batter plus additional berries as pancake topping; or add any kind of berries to a fresh green salad (think of strawberry and spinach salad and expand from there).
Then of course there are also countless ways to use berries in beautiful and tasty recipes as well.
Wild Rice Salad with Saskatoon Berries
Add 1-1/4 cup dry rice (mixture of brown rice and wild rice in whatever proportion you prefer) to 2-1/2 cups boiling water or stock. Turn heat to low, cover, simmer about 45 minutes, until rice is fully cooked.
Let rice cool in open pot for a while. Then stir in 2 tbsp olive or sesame oil. Let sit some more. While rice is still warm, combine:
1–1/2 tbsp honey
2 tsp prepared mustard (any kind)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4–1/2 tsp cinnamon
Place rice in serving bowl and stir this seasoning into the rice. Let cool to room temperature.
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2–1 cup saskatoon berries (or substitute 1/4 cup raisins if making this dish outside of saskatoon berry season)
Top with 1/4 cup seeds or chopped nuts.
Glazed Berry Pie
(This beautiful summer pie, adapted from Prairie Cook’s Book, contains lots of fresh uncooked berries! Use whatever fresh tasty berries you want—either one kind or a mixture. )
Glaze: combine 1 cup berries with just enough water or apple juice to cook them in. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and mash well. Let cool.
Place mashed berries in a measuring cup and add more water or juice if needed to equal 1 cup.
Return berries to saucepan along with:
2 tbsp cornstarch (make sure cornstarch is well mixed in with no lumps)
1/4 tsp unrefined salt
1/2 cup honey
Bring to boil, stirring constantly, then reduce heat and continue stirring just until mixture thickens and looks clear. Remove from heat and stir in:
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (depending on tartness of berries)
2 tbsp butter
Let cool until just warm and still runny.
Spread a thin layer of berry glaze over the inside of a 9 inch baked pie shell. Arrange 3 cups of fresh berries in the glazed shell. Spread the rest of the glaze over the fresh berries. Let cool completely to thicken. Serve chilled or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream for a decadent dessert.
Stevia-sweetened Berry Spread
(Very little sweetener is required for this jam-like recipe. Pomona’s Pectin is available at health food stores)
Blend in food processor until fairly smooth (depending how chunky you want the jam to be):
4 cups fresh or thawed berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or a combination)
Pour berry sauce into cooking pot. Add:
calcium water from Pomona’s Pectin package (see package instructions
lemon juice if required for type of berries being used. (see package instructions)
Bring to boil. Simmer and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Combine and stir into fruit:
2 tsp unrefined sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp good quality white stevia powder
1 tsp pectin powder (from package)
Stir very well over heat to dissolve powders. When it boils again, remove from heat. Pour into jars, let cool and store in refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups.
www.answers.com/topic/berries (Gale Encyclopedia of Food and Culture)
Prairie Cook’s Book, Betty Ternier Daniels, published by Saskatchewan Ecology Alliance and Prairietopian Enterprises, 1982
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She lives in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see the colour display ad on page 9 of the 20.2 July/August issue of the WHOLifE Journal.