Archive for the ‘Wild Fruits’ Category

Low-bush Cranberries


At a recent farm stay over the weekend, the smell was everywhere – that pungent, somewhat stinky odor…not of manure, but of fall cranberries. I looked, and looked, and looked – nothing. Until I looked down instead of up. I’m good and used to harvesting high-bush cranberries, and even have some planted in my yard, but have never come across the low-bush variety, although I knew they existed. Hardly breaking 3′, they took a while to find but once we did the plants themselves were everywhere. The bad news was these low bushes yielded a small fraction of what a mature tree-sized [12-14'+] highbush variety will put out. After a good effort at picking, only a sheet pan one layer thick was the result. It was like picking wild blueberries. But I’ll take it.

For details on making jelly, check out Karlynn’s recent write up on the high-bush berries. My spartan yield will be enough to flavour a few sauces, garnish a few plates – but again, I’ll take it. These little things are vastly underrepresented in our regional food culture. People dig stinky cheese – perhaps it’s time to embrace the stinky berry.



This is one underrated fruit. It has pretty blooms in the spring, vibrant red foliage in the fall, produces fruit that in my opinion is tastier than blueberries, requires no special attention, and is super hardy to our climate. Let’s face it, it grows wild here. It requires no green thumb. If you like blue fruits in general, it makes excellent syrups, jams, pies, and wine. The one strike against is the few seeds in them, which for some probably compromises the texture. No biggie to my palate. Oh…and it suckers and self propagates prolifically, which to me is a pro, and to others may be a con.

I will say that the cultivated varietals I have experience with – smoky and thiessen – seem to be far superior to the wild plants. Clearly they were selected for size and flavor. When picking last year, I was astonished to learn that these things can get as big or bigger than any cultivated blueberry I’d ever seen. I also wonder if they were selected for moisture content, as these in the photo are juicier than a blueberry – wild saskatoons can be pretty dry, another reason I think some folks have a bias against.

Yields are actually heavier one might suspect: 2-3 kg/bush min up to 15kg when thiessens are catching their stride at year 7-8. I have about 20 or so young bushes bordering my front yard [roughly half thiessens], so it appears I can look forward to 40-300kg of saskatoon harvest down the road. That’s a lot of berries. Good thing they make good wine.

The Strawberry Gap


At the moment, in my mind, these bad boys take top spot at proving how shitty and dumbed down imported-out-of-season-food can be. Fresh strawberries from a plant that was actually bred to produce tasty strawberries, kick ass. If they were a wine, I’d score them 95+ while the crap-styrofoamy-immitation strawberries we get from abroad [no offense, cali-foilks, but the strawberries they ship here in the winter suck] would score down in the 55-75 range. The gap is that large. Perhaps the biggest gap in flavor intensity and quality between seasonal/local and imported/out-of-season that I can think of. If you can one-up me here, give ‘er.

As an aside. Most folks know wild strawberries rock, and their concentration of flavor is insane. Last year I yoinked a bunch of wild plants from a local field, and transplanted them in my garden. They are freaking out they’re so happy – with space, less competition, and water. They’re also producing teenie strawberry gems, and propagating like rabbits all over the ground – which is fine by me. Jury is still out on whether they are that much better in flavor to make up for their significantly smaller size. I’m gonna guess no. The tasty-bred-big-guys are truly awesome.

Oak Tasting

I’m waiting for some wine samples of batch 2 to come up to room temp from cellar temp to do a tasting/assessment as they are all under different oak treatments at the moment. The two far ones have different toasts of oak going on. The last one has both toasts, but in twice the volume of wine. I’m trying to figure out when to blend. Put differently, I’m trying to not botch the whole project by forgetting about the stuff down there and ending up with a wood beverage that carries hints of mild fruit notes. Somewhere between now and that point I need to make a move.

Oh, and why the ramekins? The wine geek that wrote the book on wine cellaring that I lived by suggested it, and I do find it helps contain aromatics.

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 1 Update

Batch 1 of 09 Saskatoon wine was bottled this week, and I figured it would be useful for other would-be-saskatoon-wine-makers to have some thoughts in the otherwise gaping void of online information about tackling this.

First, I’m pretty sure this wine will mature nicely. For a long time, the wine had a tart cherry vibe that was awkward, nearly metallic, and generally less than impressive. I hoped that this would fade, and indeed it does. I’ve oaked this batch with medium plus toast infusion spiral, and the oak notes so far are stunningly impressive. I had no idea I would be able to oak a wine to such a quality level, and highly recommend using the spirals. Oak certainly improved the wine, and certainly brought it vastly closer to what most would expect in a red wine.

This batch is, unfortunately, due to a winemaker chemistry blunder, slightly overly acidic – and it’s a thin type of acidity. Fortunately on batch 2 I didn’t over shoot my TA adjustment by accident. Batch 1 is perhaps reminiscent of a Beaujolais: tart cherry and bright, light acidity. Makes it a good food wine, but certainly no sipper for the heavy-red-lover. It is a glass-sniffer though – the oak made the empty glass one of the most pleasant items of the whole experience.

Last thought for the day: cold soak, extended maceration, and a very slow, cooler fermentation made my second batch highly more concentrated, highly more extracted, and clearly a better quality wine overall if you value concentration. I ended up with 2 different syles of wines – which does not hurt my feelings.

Conclusion to date: I spent 2 mornings of 4 hours picking fruit. It yielded 3 to 3.5 cases of wine in addition to the few bags I used for baking, canning, etc. In hindsight, that seems like time well spent. I think after a couple years in bottle that I’ll feel that way even moreso.

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 2

Batch 1 Update: has been hangin’ with medium plus toast american oak for a week now, and is showing enough wood to come off in the next few days for this batch. I think. Reality is that I have no guidelines to work with. The infusion spirals are fully extracted at 6 weeks. Where prior to that is a good balance for this particular batch of juneberry wine is completly up to winemaking style and taste. What I can say is that the oak has greatly aided the wine, bringing all kinds of aromatics and texture to the party – far more than I’d expected. I’m trying to allow those synergies to exist without overpowering the fruit with wood. A learning experience to say the least.


30L of must, TA 0.4, SG 1.050, and pH 3.85 was the original situation. Due to my previous success reducing the water/must ratio from 150% in traditional recipes to 37% in Batch 1, I pushed it further to 19% this time. Pre-fermentation post-tweaking chemistry: 32L, TA 0.7, SG 1.113, pH 3.66.

I also used my fruit crusher on this batch – which worked fantastically. The hope was that the crusher would allow more juice to be extracted right off the bat. Not so sure that’s the case. Seems it made a fine puree, and only a few days into fermentation did significant amounts of juice start to separate from the pulp.

Yeast: Lalvin RC212. The cap is seriously 90%+ of the depth of the must. I’m sure there are some inherent dangers with a cap that deep, but it has to be tried. I’m punching down every 2-3 hrs during the day if I can. I cold soaked each pail – one for 2 days, one for 4, with this technique. Fermentation temperatures have been lower than Batch 1 – simply due to the ambient temperatures. I’m going to have to intervene at some point to get the must temp up again into the high 20sC. Post fermentation I intend on doing an extended maceration using the same technique.

This wine should, in theory, be more concentrated [less water, cold soak, extended maceration], higher alcohol [higher SG], more complex in oak [it will see 2 toasts of oak], and generally ‘better’. Only time will tell…

Saskatoon Wine – 2009 Batch 1


As with quite a few other items lately, I’m posting about making ‘Saskatoon Wine’ because there seems to be a hole in online information about the topic. After doing some research, I realized that it’s partly because it’s very Canadiana to even call them saskatoons. Amélanche, juneberry, serviceberry, shadberry are more common names elsewhere. I’ll use the terms interchangeably, just to spice it up with a tsp of confusion.

Can a serviceable, decent wine be produced with these berries? I’m on the quest to find out.

First step. Pick lots of berries. How much fruit/yield of juice/yield of mature bottles? Unfortunately, that answer’s requiring a lot of R&D.

The water problem

The biggest issue I’ve had with serviceberry wines in the past is they taste watered down. The fruit character was solid enough – but watery. Doing research on the very few recipes kicking about, I found out why this may be: adding more water by weight than berries is the norm. WHAT?!?!? What sense does that make? If you did that to grape wine in France, I think they’d string you up in the town square. Well we found out one possible reason – crush juneberries and they yield little juice, so much so that making a slurry essentially doesn’t happen. I thought ‘okay, clearly there is a reason for the water.’ We added water until we had a nice runny mash, and ended up content at 0.55L/Kg of fruit. Traditional recipes are more in the ballpark of 2.20L/Kg of fruit. That’s a pretty severe difference. I felt baldy about the water I’d added until I did those calculations.

This being my first run at this, we used a giant potato masher to crush the previously frozen fruit. Worked pretty well. I also took it for a spin with my kitchen immersion blender – which quickly would plug up with the robust berry. But I’m going to use my fruit crusher next time in hopes of more juice yield right off the bat, so that I can reduce the water addition – working my way towards zero water/kg if I can. How else can a proper wine be made?


Adding large volumes of water to your must completely screws it up. The pH rises out of the mid 3 range that you want, into 4 territory. Titratable acidity is equally thrown off. So you have to intervene to adjust the acidity to avoid a limp, sickly wine. The sugars get dilute too – so in goes sugar to balance the water addition. And that’s with a quarter the water normally recommended. I clearly need to do some juice chemistry on un-watered-down juice, if for no other reason than to understand the juice’s innate chemistry better.


This is where my water gripes dissipate and it becomes a joy to punch down the cap of skins/berries 3-4 times a day. Post inoculation of yeast, the bubbles quickly lift the solids to form a 3” cap or so. In time, mine became about a foot thick. Reincorporating it prevents off-odors, keeps the must safe from oxidation and bugs, and helps with extraction of color and phenolics. I did as warm a fermentation as I could muster – getting the must up to 27C at the peak of fermentation. That heat is necessary for extraction of color and flavor as well – from the skins. I achieved close to my heat goal of 27-32C by sticking the bucket in a small bathroom upstairs with a light left on to generate some heat. It also happened to be warm outside – I can see having to get more creative if fermenting in the winter here. All of this proceeded as expected, and I tested S.G. daily, and temperature twice daily.


My fruit press did a fine job of this – far easier than pressing apples, as the skins have been…um…decomposed…party by the yeast’s party already. There was a lot less pomace than I expected, which is a promising sign that the berries really break down – implying potential for removal of more water.

Tasting Notes

Although yeast-laden, raw, and young, the wine actually tastes like a nice wine, and smells the part too. Bright fruit, good acidity on the palate – very optimistic of its matured, post-oak state. It’s quite bright red at this stage – rosy red, as opposed to dark or purple.


I will be oaking this batch with American oak, medium plus toast infusion spirals from the Barrel Mill. Try to get these things locally. Hah. I ordered mine direct online. One thing I’ve learned lately is that wine shops don’t know much about making wine around here. I went to two shops asking for malolactic culture and got blank stares, was asked if that was malic acid, or worst ‘is that for making beer?’. At a wine shop. Good grief. Praise online shopping.

More posts about this as things progress.

Saskatoon Picking: Day 2

No, apparently the 75 lbs of berries picked Friday was not enough. We’d committed to at least giving the crop one more shot before resigning the bulk of it to the birds and rot. My earlier estimates of there being 200-300 lbs of berries was revised today to perhaps 1000-2000. So we optimized. The bushes at the ends of the rows produced larger, more plentiful fruit. So we focused on them, milking them like a cow. We skipped small and even medium sized fruit, or bushes with sparse fruiting. Only small-grape-sized would do. 63% more efficient harvest this way – and the two of us left the patch this morning with ~120 lbs of berries – adding up to a whopping total of 200 lbs over the two days. Shocking. Begging the question: what the F do you do with that many Saskatoons??!? You’ll see.

ps. In most parts, these are called Serviceberries or Juneberries. Such nice names. Here though, I think ‘Julyberry’ would be more correct.

75 lbs of Saskatoons Day

A friend and I were up around 5 this morning to a) miss the heat of the day in the low 30sC, and b) take advantage of an offer from a friend of mine to go pick saskatoons at thier place while they were on holidays. The thing is, the acreage they bought used to be a saskatoon farm. So they kinda have lots. We picked from 7-11ish and picked about 75 lbs of berries. Yeah. 75 lbs. And we only tackled perhaps a third of the crop. So back we go again Sunday morning – same time, same place.

I must confess, I think these berries are misunderstood. Firstly, I think the texture of wild berries puts people off – but these are bred for commercial use and are therfore large, juicy, and tender. They basically reminded me of large blueberries that grow in clusters the size of small grape bunches. What’s not to love about that?!?!?

Menu tonight: duck confit garden salad with fresh saskatoons & saskatoon vinaigrette + calf elk burgers + charcoal grilled calf moose steak with honey, garlic, chili, and yes, saskatoon glaze. Clearly more saskatoon posting is in my future.

Wild Raspberries

Although the cranberries in yesterday’s post weren’t ready, these were: wild raspberries!! The raspberry-eating-munchkin in the photo below made it difficult to linger and pick, otherwise I would have LOVED to leave with a bucket of them. Instead, we mashed handfuls of them into our faces. I would have thought this would be too late for raspberries, as the garden ones I’m used to are slowing down considerably. Not the first time I’ve been wrong.
My wife and I agreed that there isn’t the large margin of flavor intensity between wild and ‘domestic’ – as there is for wild strawberries. But nonetheless, the thought of making ‘wild raspberry’ jam excites me greatly. One of these days…