Long before there were Florida oranges and an apple a day, berries were keeping us happy and healthy through the long winter months. Fact is, berries are better for you than just about any other fruit.
Berries were vital to the well-being of the indigenous population, who made a kind of fruit leather by pounding berries and drying them in the sun. This was eaten raw or reconstituted in hot water or soup. They made pemmican by mixing berries with bison meat and suet.
The early settlers were wild for berries at a time when any other fresh fruit was hard to find. Back then, wild berries grew much more abundantly than they do today. Early memoirs relate tales of picking parties heading out for wild strawberries, raspberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, saskatoons and blueberries by the bucketful.
By the time I came along, it was hard to find a wild raspberry or strawberry, but fortunately, domesticated varieties had been planted on the farm. We had a large berry patch, and from an early age, I loved to pick. I loved being outside on a hot summer day with the buzz of insects and the scent of dry grass. I loved the rhythm of picking.
Best of all, I love eating those berries in the depths of winter. Toast with raspberry jelly. Cranberry scones with strawberry preserve. Blueberry smoothies. Chokecherry syrup on pancakes. And, of course, saskatoon berry pie. Now there’s a new berry on my pick list: the tart Prairie cherry developed by fruit breeders at the University of Saskatchewan. It’s perfect for cherry pie or a fruit compote on roast pork.
One year, my husband and I did an experiment in local eating, choosing not to buy imported fruit from the grocery store and relying on Prairie fruit alone. We ate berries in one form or another almost every day. In the spring, he made a surprising observation: neither of us had suffered a cold all winter long. All things being equal, was our local berry diet responsible for our good health? I like to think so. Berries are high in vitamin C, rich in antioxidants and full of flavonoids (the dark-red, purple and blue colours) to boost the immune system and fight disease. Berries are as good as fruit gets.
This recipe is a great way to show them off. Clafoutis (cla-foo-tee) is a French dessert traditionally made with cherries but I like to make a Prairie version with a mix of berries I picked myself. It’s perfect for brunch any time of year.
Prairie Berry Clafoutis
Use fresh or frozen berries (or a mix of both). In season, you can also add some sliced young rhubarb to the berry blend.
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 3 eggs
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 1 c. milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 c. flour
- 1 tbsp. flour
- 2 c. mixed berries such as cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, lowbush cranberries, saskatoons
Heat the oven to 350 F. Put butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a pie plate. Place in oven until butter is melted but not brown. Meanwhile, in a blender, mix eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, add 1 cup flour and blend well. Toss fruit with remaining 1 tbsp. flour. Remove the skillet or pie plate from the oven. Pour in the batter and scatter the fruit on top. Return to the oven. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set. Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar or cool with a drizzle of syrup.