Eric Akis: A nice slice of Saskatoon berry pie

Eric Akis

This is the fourth instalment in my series about the five classic Canadian desserts featured on a booklet of stamps released by Canada Post this year called Sweet Canada.

In my first two columns, I wrote about blueberry grunt, a dessert folks are fond of in Atlantic Canada, and tarte au sucre, a sublime pie popular in Quebec. In my third column, I wrote about butter tarts and noted that the first recipe was published in Ontario well over a century ago.

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Today, the topic is Saskatoon berry pie, which has been long enjoyed in Canada’s prairie provinces.

In Canada Post’s description of the dessert on its website, it notes that Saskatoon berries, which are high in fibre, protein, antioxidants and other good things, were a staple for Indigenous people and early settlers. The berry’s name is derived from the Cree word misâskwatômina, which also inspired the name of the city of Saskatoon, meaning “at the Saskatoon berry.”

Saskatoon berries are harvested from a wild, deciduous native shrub that grows from western Ontario to British Columbia and the Yukon, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca). They are also cultivated and farms selling Saskatoon berries can be found in many parts of the country.

According to the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America (saskatoonberryinstitute.org), Saskatoon berries look much like blueberries, but are more closely related to the apple family. The institute says many would describe their taste as having a sweet, nutty almond flavour. In other words, something that’s great to bake in a pie.

When doing my research, I could not find a source that said exactly when or where the first Saskatoon berry pie was made, only that it’s an original Canadian recipe. But it’s obviously been baked a long while and a sign of that is that over the decades several variations on how it’s made have developed.

For example, some recipes ask you to bake a cooked, thickened and cooled Saskatoon berry mixture in the pie. Others instruct you to put sugar-sweetened raw berries in the crust and bake and cook them inside the pie with a thickener, such as flour, tapioca or cornstarch.

Because the season for them lasts just a few weeks, most recipes say you can use fresh or frozen berries. I used the latter in my deep-dish-style Saskatoon berry pie recipe.

The berries for my pie came from a farm called South Island Saskatoons. They are located at 1245 Fisher Rd. in Cobble Hill and are the only place I know of that grows and sells Saskatoon berries on Vancouver Island.

Beyond berries, they also sell ready-to-bake Saskatoon berry pies and preserves made from the fruit, such as jam, jelly and syrup. For more information about South Island Saskatoons, go to southislandsaskatoons.com. On that website, you’ll also find recipes using Saskatoon berries, including their version of Saskatoon berry pie.

Saskatoon Berry Pie

This deep-dish version of the dessert is loaded with Saskatoon berries, sweetened and flavoured with sugar, lemon and spice.

Preparation: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 50 to 55 minutes
Makes: 10 servings

6 cups frozen Saskatoon berries (about 1 2/3 lbs)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus some for rolling

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsp flemon juice

• Flaky Pie Dough (see recipe below)

1 large egg, beaten

Place berries, sugar, 1/3 cup flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and toss to combine. Now mix in the water and lemon juice.

Set out a 9-inch (23 cm), four-cup capacity, deep-dish pie plate. Set one of the discs of dough on a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of it and your rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough from the centre out until it’s about two inches wider than the top of your pie plate. To create a round shape, give the dough an eighth of a turn after each roll, dusting with more flour if needed.

To make the move to the pie plate, carefully roll the dough around the rolling pin. Place the dough just above the front of the pie plate, and then gently unroll into it. If dough breaks when doing this, simply press back together.

Put the Saskatoon berry mixture into the piecrust (it will sit well above the rim of the pie plate, but the filling will sink and compact as it bakes). Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second disc of dough as you did the first. Set this top crust on, crimping the edges to seal. Trim off excess pastry (see Note).

Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pie to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate pie 20 minutes or more to firm up the dough.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 F. Bake pie in the middle of the oven 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and cook 50 to 60 minutes more, or until pastry is rich golden and the filling is bubbling and very hot in the centre.

Cool pie to room temperature on a baking rack. Cut pie into wedges and plate and serve as is. Or, if desired, serve the pie with dollops or scoops of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note: Save the pastry trimmings for another use, such as the topping for a sweet or savoury potpie.

Flaky Pie Dough

This is my go-to recipe for rich and flaky pie dough. Chilling the dough before rolling it gives the gluten time to relax and helps to yield tender pastry.

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking time: none
Makes: dough for a double-crust pie

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for shaping

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Eric’s options)

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into tiny cubes

1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup ice-cold water

Combine the 3 cups flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry cutter, two forks or with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cut the shortening and butter into the flour until well blended.

Pour the egg/water mixture into the bowl; gently work it until it forms loose, moist dough that just holds together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface.

With lightly floured hands, shape the dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Press each half into a 1/2-inch-thick disc. Wrap and refrigerate the discs for at least 20 minutes, before rolling out and using as described in the Saskatoon berry pie recipe or any other recipe.

Eric’s options: Cold, pure lard could replace the shortening in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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