Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mother Nature's Fruits

The indigenous berries produced on the prairies,where cultivated fruit is rare, provided a wonderful bonanza in the fall: a gift from Mother Nature for the taking. I'm not talking of the cultivars that have developed from these plants by the plant developers at the universities and experimental farms, but the original plants that we harvested berries from in the olden days. Low bush blueberries from the Hudson Bay Junction area (Vaccinium agustifolium). Your fingers were blue from the bloom on the berries and your back sore from the stooping. Your ears were alert for sounds of bears in the patch and your legs ready to run. High bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum) were from the same area, but not related at all botanically or horticulturally ,to the common cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) . These high bush berries made a tart and piquant jelly. The pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanicus) also was a favorite for the jelly maker. A tart and delicious jelly was created, particularly good for meat and game. My favorite as a child was chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). The flavour of jelly from this berry was unique. A slice of homemade bread,slathered with butter and chokecherry jelly was ambrosia! Food for the gods from Saskatchewan! Because it took a long time to pick enough of these fruits, and since they were so small and thinly spread, the preserves were special and treated with great care. The Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia) was wide spread through the prairies. The pioneers named the city after them. The berries made very nice pies and were easy to pick. They were the prairie icon.The cultivars that have arisen as a result of selection have improved the production of all these little trees undoubtedly, but they will never supplant the fruit flavors one remembers from one's youthful taste buds. Mother Nature has provided indigenous fruits on the wet coast as well. Here, we have abundant cultivated fruit on Lotus Island, so we often tend to ignore the indigenous offerings. Too bad because they are spectacular! I don't include the Himalayan Blackberry variants or the Rowanberry because they are not indigenous. The Trailing Pacific Blackberry (Rubus ursinis}, that little squirt that tangles everything you plant, produces a quality berry jelly, very different from its mellow Himalayan cousin.The salal berry (Gaultheria shallon} and the Oregon grape {Mahonia aquifolium) produce berries that our long time neighbor used to add as a wild flavour, to most jelly and jam preserves. The Thimble berry (Rubus parviflorus) and the Salmon berry (Rubus spectabilis) are for the birds, and best left to them. There are many good publications on a lot more wild fruits that may be worth trying! Not in anyway to derogate the abundant cultivars that are the anchor of the fruit industry, it's worth trying a little of what our early ancestors had available to them, freely given, if only for the novelty. A paen to history and Mother Nature!

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