Saskatoons are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them crop.
We have a large saskatoon bush in our front yard. About a week ago, I was looking at the bush on a Saturday afternoon. The berries were starting to ripen—they’re perfect when they’re so dark-purple that they’re almost black—and decided I’d start picking the ripest ones the following day.
Well, Sunday morning rolls around and I head outside to discover that the birds had stripped the entire bush in less than twenty-four hours. Not only did they eat all of the ripe and almost-ripe berries, but they ate all of the completely-unripe berries too.
I had plans for those berries. I make a super-tasty saskatoon and Grand Marnier jam that some friends look forward to every year, and I had hoped to try making a batch of saskatoon wine.
Thankfully, a family member came to the rescue. He knows a good spot to find wild saskatoons and not long after the birds had devastated my crop, I was handed buckets and buckets of berries. I had enough for the jam and the wine, with plenty left over.
“Saskatoons” is apparently a very regional name for these berries. Whenever I would search for Saskatoon recipes online, the options were extremely limited—basically just pies or jam. My husband and I aren’t really dessert people and I’ve never baked a pie in my life, so I never knew what to do with these and we’d just eat them as-is.
One day I encountered a blog post about something called serviceberries and there was an off-hand anecdote in the post about how some people know them as saskatoons or juneberries. Suddenly I had the key to finding more recipes and posts about this little short-season fruit.
If you’ve never had saskatoons before, I sort of think of them as similar to a blueberry. However, that similarity is more in the size, shape, and colour, though to me the taste isn’t super dissimilar.
My saskatoon bush produces nice, plump, juicy berries. The wild ones are considerably smaller, as is often the case with wild versus cultivated fruit.
Back to the cooking adventure:
After making the jam (which I didn’t photograph, so I won’t get a blog post about it this year, but if you’re curious, it’s this recipe), setting up the wine (which I’ll post about in several months when it’s ready to drink so I can also comment on taste), and flavouring a batch of kombucha with saskatoons and blueberries, I was still left with more saskatoons than I knew what to do with.
I decided to give preserving them a try. It had worked well with blueberries, so theoretically I might get the same result with saskatoons.
I pulled up the recipe and set out to experiment. The photos in this post are of a double-batch of the recipe at the bottom.
To start, mix unflavoured kombucha, sugar, salt, and water together and set aside. Rinse the berries and then put them into the fermentation jar. Pour the brine on top, make sure everything is submerged (preferably with a weight), close it (with an airlock), and let it sit for a few days. Taste it daily until desired doneness, which for us was three days, same as with the blueberries.
This was a bit of a disaster in the process, requiring quick thinking to make things work.
The first is that since I wanted a double batch, it was too much for my fermentation kit. That was easy enough to solve—I’ll just use a bigger jar.
I got everything mixed up and put inside. When I went to put the fermentation weight on top of the berries, that was my next problem—the weight was designed for a wide-mouth jar and I was using a standard-mouth jar. I also didn’t have any wide-mouth jars on hand to just switch jars.
You can usually use a ziplock bag filled with water as a weight, but there wasn’t much room in the jar, so I decided to risk it and skip the weight. I made sure to stir the mixture with a spoon every twelve hours or so, to push the top berries underneath so nothing was floating on top too long.
Then came the problem with the lid. The fermentation lid, similar to the weight, was manufactured for a wide-mouth jar, so it didn’t fit the jar I was using. Luckily I have some wine-making equipment on hand, so I poked a hole in a mason jar lid and stuck an airlock in it. (In the absence of that, the next best thing would be to loosely put on a two-part mason jar lid. Theoretically, the weight of the lid would keep it down and keep out unwanted air, but also be loose enough to allow gas build-up inside to release.)
All potential disasters overcome, the project succeeded.
Once the berries are ready and fully fermented, I replaced the makeshift airlock lid with a regular lid and stuck it in the fridge. If you’re using a fermentation kit, you might want to transfer the berries to a new jar to free up the kit for the next fermentation project.
The fully fermented berries are wonderful on their own. The kombucha sugar brine gives it a sweet juicy taste, and as they continue to ferment (albeit more slowly) in the fridge, they may develop a fizzy texture felt on the tongue when eating them—some folks dislike this and some enjoy this.
Other than eating them straight out of the jar, they make a great topping for yogurt, ice cream, overnight oats, or any other food where you want a little bit of fresh fruit mixed in.
Even if the birds hadn’t stripped my berries in under twenty-four hours, the saskatoon season is so incredibly short. Last year, the birds left the bush alone and I got to harvest the berries—I got buckets of them off only one bush—and we enjoyed our saskatoon harvest for about a week and a half. After that, they were finished with until this year.
This spring we planted two more saskatoon bushes in our yard. Either we’ll have so many berries that even if the birds raid a bush we’ll still have some for ourselves, or we’ll just attract more birds and they’ll all know our yard is the place to be. As frustrating as it is to have the birds abscond with the harvest, we do appreciate that someone enjoyed the berries, even if it can’t be us.
Sugar-Brine Fermented Saskatoons (Serviceberries, Juneberries)
- 1 Fermenting Jar or Fermenting Kit See notes for alternatives
- 2 cups Saskatoons / Serviceberries / Juneberries
- 6 Tbsp Kombucha, unflavoured
- ¾ tsp Salt
- 6 Tbsp Sugar
- 9 Tbsp Water
- Mix all ingredients except for the berries.
- Clean berries and then put them in the fermentation jar.
- Pour the kombucha-sugar mixture on top.
- Put the fermentation weight on top of the blueberries.
- After twenty-four hours, taste-test daily until desired doneness. For us, we determined this was after three days, but the length of time will vary based on the temperature in your kitchen and various other factors.Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge.I'm not sure of the shelf life, but the jar in our fridge has been there a month and they're still good.