Reading my morning e-mail is pretty much the first thing I do every morning, like millions of others around the world in the 21st century. Ah, how life has changed. Yet, Margaret, one of my very favourite local (35 minutes out of Edmonton) food bloggers planted both of my feet back on our rich black Alberta soil and held my heart in her hand, quite literally, with her invitation last week. “The Saskatoon trees here are so heavy with berries, I could never pick them all. Would you like to come out on Sunday and pick berries with me?” Would I? What a gift? For a gal like me, an invitation to pick berries at the height of any berry picking season is just too fantastic. No one has ever invited me to pick berries with them before, and this is something I really love to do! Living in the city, it is tough to know where they are and when they are ready “out there in the country.”
Oh, we used to know. Everyone had someone living on a farm when I was a child. We’d be driving in and out of the city and spot those bushes along the fenceline laden with purple-red glistening globules of juicy July Saskatoon flavour drooping and dragging into the gullies and ditches. Back we would come, pails and bug repellant in hand, until there wasn’t a berry left on a branch. Hard work, oh yes it was, yet so deeply gratifying. Now, I grow a couple of bushes in my own small urban garden and get a couple of pies from them, every year. For that I am grateful.
Apparently, so does Margaret and Raymond! I was expecting to meeting her and then drive to some wild berry bushes along a fence line somewhere. That was until I arrived at their inviting home and remarkable park-like Alberta prairie garden. Mom and I drove West of town, following her directions, through the gates to the acreage subdivision, and I spotted a house in the distance. “That must be theirs!”
It was. Welcomed by Pipi and visiting puppies, first, then Raymond and Margaret, as soon as we parked, I lept out for a garden tour. This space is obviously a labour of love. This gorgeous July Sunday afternoon found both Margaret and Raymond tooting around the garden, plenty to do, yet completely relaxed and immersed in the pleasure of the landscape they had created together over their 21 years at this home. Who needs a holiday when you have paradise outside of your back door?
We started with the orchard. Yes, orchard. Margaret and Raymond, over the years, planned and planted and are now benefiting from, literally, the fruits of their labour.
This is the pear tree, usually festooned with pears and delicious for juice making, Margaret says.
They have three Evans Cherry trees, a Parkland apple, a Red Sparkle apple, and other apple trees at various corners of the yard, not in “the orchard”, proper. (Mind you, that was my name for this part of the garden.)
Little hideaways and nooks and crannies had me wanting to “play”. Have you read The Secret Garden? It is one of my favourite childhood book; this Virginia Creeper covered arbor with the lovely quiet bench hiding in the cool dark space underneath awakened the long sleepy childhood images I’d created while reading it. One could sit there, in the shadows, and no one would notice. This is my kind of garden.
Margaret doesn’t have one kind of rhubarb. She has two. A giant variety where she can harvest a stalk as thick as her arm, and a gorgeous red variety. Beyond the rhubarb, was a lengthy row of yellow rasperries sparking in the sun. Sweet, hot deliciousness. I have one yellow raspberry bush that I practically worship. Margaret doesn’t take anything she has created for granted, either. She saw they were ready, and I am certain she was out picking them after we left that evening.
The patio in the back of the house is very sunny, but there is a shade option up the steps through the stone wall to the wooded area behind the house. A child could play here forever, and never be bored.
That is the greenhouse, above. Each year, bit by bit, dreams were dreampt, then with a good deal of elbow grease and a lot of labour, each dream, one by one, became a reality. The hard work motivated by that ultimate intrinsic personal satisfaction, pleasure and pride in one’s personal accomplishments is experienced only through personal sacrifice. This garden emanates those old Alberta prairie values that were once owned by all. We must work hard to survive, so take pride in the qork you undertake, and hopefully, you will find joy in your work. Clearly, Margaret and Raymond have. And one cannot visit without being edified.
I started to turn green when I saw Margaret’s poultry barn. The chickens were gloriously stinky and curious. Margaret has experimented with a variety of chickens over the years.
What gorgeous eggs! Imagine waking in the morning, picking your berries, harvesting your garden for dinner, gathering your eggs. It all sounds so romantic, but this is a huge space with lots of weeding and mowing and preserving to be done on a daily basis. Margaret does just that. Nothing goes to waste.
The three Saskatoon Berry bushes, above, are the largest Saskatoon berry bushes I have ever laid my eyes on. I learned we were not going out on the road to pick wild Saskatoons, but Margaret was sharing her personal bounty with mom and I. Nothing goes to waste. It was evident that sharing such a precious harvest brought Margaret and Raymond as much pleasure as it did my mom and I to receive it, and it was difficult for me to sincerely express just what this invitation meant to me.
There is nothing missing in The Kitchen Frau’s this prairie garden and Margaret is the perfect host: “Oh, you must eat some fresh peas off the vine. Sometimes I just stand here and shell them and eat them until I get my fill. They are so good. Have some!”
The lettuce, the Swiss Chard, parsnips and peas were thriving. I had not seen such massive zucchini flowers, below.
There was a raised bed of strawberries and one of tomatoes. Other tomatoes were planted in the garden.
On the other side of the house, at one end of the garden and beside the Saskatoon bushes was another arbor. This one covered with one clematis vine. Margaret said that she sometimes sits in there, sorting her seeds on a hot day.
Time to pick berries! When Saskatoon berries are ripe for the pickin’, they can just be pulled by the cluster in the pail. These days, if you don’t pick them when they start to ripen, the birdies eat them all. At least they do at my house. Margaret had said it was a couple days early, but there were so many berries on the tree, that if she waited for them all to ripen, she wouldn’t have the time needed to harvest that many berries. These bushes were loaded.
We did pull the plump ripe clusters off the branches, and then tried to leave the “not yet ripe yet” berries for picking in a few days. There were so many, it was hard to focus. Everywhere I turned, there were berries to pick. Did I mention it was hot? Very hot, butwe were in the shade. After about 45 minutes of plucking and clucking, Margaret brought us out a lovely cool tall glass of sparkling rhubarb Saskatoon berry juice.
Refreshed, renewed and cooled completely, we were re-energized. My bucket was getting full.
As it was nearing 5pm, I decided to call it a day. But, we had to stay for “just a taste” of Margaret’s Saskatoon Berry Ice Cream. She had told us she had made some for us to enjoy later, and anyone that knows me, knows that I am an ice cream fiend. I could not resist. “Ok…. but just a taste. It is so late!”
Can you see how purple my mouth is? I was eating more than was going in the bucket! Margaret encouraged that, too – which both mom and I appreciated. I had to brush for an hour to get the purple stain off of my teeth when I got home!
We put away our ladders, washed our hands and lapped up the most luscious Saskatoon berry ice cream and cookies. What a perfect way to end the day.
The almond cookies were perfect with the Saskatoon berry ice cream. Margaret made it using fresh berries and some of her mother-in-law’s Saskatoon berry jelly. Brilliant, as Saskatoon berry ice cream can be very bland. Not this one!
More juice, more visiting. I believe it was another hour before we finally headed to the car.
Mom said this was the best day she had had in months and months. I had to agree. Not only did Margaret gift us with the opportunity for Saskatoon berry picking from her own bushes, but she picked along side us, and then insisted we take the berries she picked. Now, have you ever picked berries? That is a gift.
We waved ‘bye-‘bye and I drove home over the country prairie roads, rosy cheeked, car filled with buckets of berries, a lovely memory of an unforgettable summer afternoon in a dreamy garden – picking berries, sipping somethin’ sparkly and wrapping it all up with homemade ice cream and cookies on the back patio. My soul is still warmed by this experience. The berries, the friendship, and the time. I am certain, without any doubt, that the Saskatoon berry pie this year, will be the absolute best, ever.
For Margaret’s wonderful ice cream recipe, definitely scoot over to her site to take a read. It is a gorgeous post. The photo above, by Margaret, is an indicator of what is in store for you. You will know why I fell in love with her site, if you haven’t been there already, as soon as you stop by.
Also, I have a host of favourite Saskatoon Berry secipes I will be making as soon as I return from visiting Vanja’s father in Bijeljina, Bosnia. We are headed there now, for the next two plus weeks. I hope there will be enough fresh ones when we return for my all time favourite: The French Saskatoon Berry Tart. (But, I think the fresh berries will be all gone by mid August.)