Last weekend we attended my family reunion in Winnipeg, Manitoba. What fun it was to see family that I hadn't seen in a very long time. The cousins who organized the event had kindly included me in their planning, and when it was mentioned that someone might bring dessert to the Saturday night dinner, I jumped in with both feet (and hands). Another cousin suggested making pie for dessert, but not just any pie, saskatoon pie. The saskatoon berry is native to the Canadian prairies and a family favorite for pie-making as far back as I can remember. It is a firm, round, deep purple berry that cooks into a beautiful dark burgundy color. The flavor is difficult to describe; it has a berry-like taste with nutty undertones. One of my cousins described the flavor of the baked pies as "like marzipan". We were traveling by car so I packed a cooler with food for the road and some pie crusts that I had made and frozen in anticipation of the pie project. When we arrived at my sister-in-law's home, one of my cousins had delivered the freshly picked saskatoons, all thirty cups of them! The afternoon before the dinner we made seven saskatoon pies. The three double crust pastries that I had brought along were not enough, so we made a batch of lard pie crust. Lard was always the fat of choice amongst the stellar pie-makers of our family. My grandmother, mother, aunts, and several cousins all used lard for pies. I usually make pie crust with a combination of butter and shortening, but I have used lard on occasion. It makes a spectacularly flaky pie crust. And it seems a little easier to handle and roll out, never getting really firm, like a butter crust. The pies were a resounding success. I think they managed to evoke those precious memories of prairie summers; berry picking with our parents and grandparents, waiting for those wonderful pies to come out of the oven, and enjoying them together at the end of a warm summer day. I have to thank my cousin Glenn, who picked all those beautiful berries and got poison ivy in the process. To Sandra and Nicole, thank you for all the work organizing the event. You should be proud; it was a weekend to remember! To everyone who attended, I loved visiting and reminiscing, meeting new members of the family and re-connecting with those I spent so much time with growing up. Let's not wait quite so long to do this again, okay?
Saskatoon Berry Pie
(makes one 9 inch pie)
1 recipe of double crust pastry of your choice**
4 cups saskatoons
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
2-3 tablespoons cream
cinnamon sugar (optional)
Place the saskatoons and water in a large, heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring as little as possible so as not to crush the berries. (If your berries have been frozen you may want to reduce the water a little, 2-3 tablespoons will be enough). Once the berries have simmered gently for about 5 minutes, remove them from the heat and add the lemon juice. Combine the sugar and tapioca in a small bowl. Add this mixture to the berries and stir gently to combine. It may seem a little soupy at this point, but the mixture will thicken as it cools. To hasten the cooling process you can transfer the mixture to a flat glass baking dish (be sure to scrape out all the tapioca with the berries). When the berry mixture has cooled, preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out the bottom crust and fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Trim the edges and fill with the saskatoon berry mixture. Dot the top of the pie filling with the butter. Quickly roll out the top crust. Apply a little of the cream on the bottom edge of the crust, then place the top crust over and press the edges together. Trim the overhang neatly and turn the edges under. Crimp the crust in the style of your choice or simply seal with the tines of a fork. Brush the crust with the cream to glaze it and promote a golden brown color. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar if desired. Cut decorative vents in the top crust of the pie to allow steam to escape. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350-360F and continue to bake (about an additional 35-40 minutes) until the crust is richly browned and the juices bubble thickly through the vents in the top crust. Remove the pie to a rack to cool completely. Serve with vanilla ice cream if you prefer, but it is so special it needs no further adornment.
Big bowls of saskatoon berries, waiting to go into the pie crusts.
Pie crusts chilling while the saskatoons are prepared.
Freshly baked saskatoon pie
Lard Pie Crust
(makes 6 single crusts)
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound Tenderflake lard
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
Place the flour in a large bowl, add the salt and mix together. Cut the lard into the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives until the texture is like a coarse meal with occasional larger pieces of fat. Blend the egg and vinegar together in a 1 cup measure. Add ice water to come to the 8 ounce mark of the measuring cup. Add the liquid to the flour and fat and toss with a fork, you may not need all the liquid. Add just enough to make the dough come together in large clumps. Press the dough together loosely and divide it into 6 portions (each will weigh about 220 grams). Gently press and shape the dough portions into flat, round discs. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Overwrap in freezer bags for longer storage in the freezer.
**The recipe for lard pastry is on the box of Tenderflake lard, a brand that is widely available in Canada. The recipe for the saskatoon pie filling came from an old friend of my sister-in-law, I am not sure of its origin.