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Bring on the berries!

Do you know what a haskap berry is? What about a sea buckthorn? Learn about these and more in a new berry-focused recipe book by Alberta author Sheryl Normandeau.

Who doesn't love berries, the sweet, sour, tart and colourful fare for pies, jams and jellies? But have you ever made barbecue sauce or a meat pie with a saskatoon? What about a salad dotted with currants? And how best to can or freeze berries when they're in abundance in the backyard, U-pick or farmers' market?

All is answered in the jam-packed (pun intended) The Little Prairie Book of Berries by Alberta author and gardening expert Sheryl Normandeau. Though the book has been available since last fall, harvest time is an ideal chance to take a closer look at these prairie gems, says the author. In all, six berries are highlighted (two aren't technically berries, she admits). They include saskatoons, haskaps, chokecherries and sea buckthorn, plus sour cherries and currants--lesser-known fruits that are still local to the prairie region.

"Developing the recipes for the book was so much fun," said Calgary-based Normandeau, who admits she doesn't grow any berries herself in her small space and community garden, instead relying on u-picks, farmers markets and even urban foraging for her fix. "Eating is a part of gardening, and I do a lot of canning, so all that's in the book: recipes plus tips on freezing, dehydrating and canning."

An admitted cookie monster, Normandeau includes recipes like a ginger cookie with currant, black currant jam and chokecherry cheesecake, along with savoury surprises that she says are some of her favourites in the book: a tourtiere-like saskatoon meat pie and saskatoon barbecue sauce are highlights. "You have to make the barbecue sauce--it's awesome," she said.

Normandeau says she wanted to showcase the berries we know less about: sea buckthorn, which grows all over the world and is challenging to pick (because, thorns); haskaps, a raspberry/blueberry fusion which originated in Japan and only grows in cold climates (like northern Canada--and even Siberia) and sour cherries--which grow in abundance across the prairies.

"We all know and use raspberries and strawberries, so I wanted to offer something else; something accessible to all," she said. "I start each chapter with information on how to grow, harvest and store and then onto some beautiful recipes. I stay away from fancy ingredients, always encouraging people to use what they've got."

The Little Prairie Book of Berries is widely available at most book sellers and online. The 200-page book offers over 60 illustrated recipes, and includes notes for dietary restrictions too.

Saskatoon Berry Barbecue Sauce

Whether you’re grilling bison, elk, beef, pork, chicken, or a vegetarian burger, this tangy/garlicky/smoky barbecue sauce is the perfect condiment to accompany it. It's gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian and vegan!

Makes 2 cups

Swap: Haskap berries, currants, or sour cherries for saskatoons 

INGREDIENTS

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, finely minced
3 small garlic cloves, crushed
3 cups fresh or frozen saskatoons
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground mustard
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. 

  2. Add the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. The mixture will thicken and reduce slightly. 

  3. Add the lemon juice and remove the sauce from the heat. Cool the mixture to room temperature. Purée the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. 

  4. Saskatoon berry barbecue sauce may be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for up to 1 month. 

 

Haskap Berry and Banana Breakfast Shake

If crawling out of bed in the morning and going to work is absolutely necessary (why, oh why?), then at least treat yourself to a breakfast shake that will make both your taste buds and tummy happy. This is it. If you don’t have tahini (sesame paste), almond or cashew butters are good substitutions. Dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian.

Makes two 10-ounce drinks

INGREDIENTS

2 cups cashew or almond milk
3/4 cup fresh haskap berries
1 large banana, chopped
1/4 cup dry quick oats
2 Tbsp tahini

RECIPE

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until completely combined and smooth. Pour into two tall glasses and enjoy.

Recipes by Sheryl Normandeau from The Little Prairie Book of Berries, copyright © 2021 by Sheryl Normandeau.