Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Servicable Berry

Serviceberries are ripening, some turning the darker shade of red that means they're ready to harvest.  Serviceberries are one of the species out there that have several, regional common names that can make it hard to communicate about them; serviceberry is my least favorite.  Juneberry I like because it accurately describes when the berries are ready,  giving you some useful information.  Saskatoon is just a fun name, from a Cree word for the shrubs.  (Saskatoon, Sasketewan, is named after these plants, and not the other way around!)  Shadberry (or variants -- shadbush, etc.) is used in the NE and refers to the shad runs that take place at the time of blooming.  

I was first introduced to these berries as Saskatoons when I lived in Northern Minnesota.  People lauded them as a great native substitute for blueberries in muffins or pancakes, and used them to make jam.  I'll give you that they are the siza and shape of a blueberry, and have a similar flavor (which similarly improves when cooked).  Personally, though, I find the seeds to be a bit of an annoyance in terms of using them as a food source.  The seeds -- 3 per berry, I think -- are about 2 times the size of a raspberry seed.  They're perfectly edible and just come out the other end, but, you know... I'm not expecting my muffin to cruch quite so much, I guess.  I've tried making jam with them and leaving the seeds in and frankly, eating it was really unplesant.  I've also tried removing the seeds to make jam, and to be totally honest, this is not worth the considerable time and effort it took.  If I were hungry or foraging I'd certainly count them as a great food source, but in today's world, they're not my favorite.  (And I'm saying that as a locavore, who would just rather be eating the strawberries that are peaking now and the early raspberries and even black raspberries have just started to come in.)

A note about making jam with serviceberries... Amelanchiers are in the rose family, same as apples, and as such are very high-pectin fruits.  I make jame without using pectin and have gotten pretty good at judging the gel point and know which fruits take longer and which are shorter... still, sometimes I undercook (syrup) or overcook (just not good).  The first time I made serviceberry jam, it gelled so fast, I was in disbelief and kept cooking.  I ended up with something so stiff it was unspreadable and even un-get-out-of-the-jar-able.  So that's my warning if you're planning to try it.  It seems like it'd be a good year to, as there's a bumper crop, at least here! 
Seeds of the saskatoon.

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