#YEG: Berries of Nostalgia

Edmonton writer and podcaster Annette Wierstra reflects on picking Saskatoon berries in the river valley with her family and baking pies.

Illustration by Valéry Goulet

 

The Edmonton river valley was as familiar as my backyard when I was young. My memories are full of weekends tromping after my dad through the foot-worn trails that meandered through the “bush,” as we called it back then. He helped me and my brothers bravely scale the beams of an old rail bridge that has long since disappeared. One summer we sailed fearlessly over a ravine on a homemade rope swing hidden deep in the woods. When snow arrived, we brought along our sleds or cross country skis. When the ice froze exactly right, we skated on Whitemud Creek.

There was that time of year in the middle of summer when the Saskatoon bushes were heavy with berries and my parents would take plastic ice cream pails on our adventures. Picking Saskatoon berries was a chore we didn’t mind because we could eat as much as we put in the pails. And the payoff was pie all fall and winter and, if it was a good year for berries, into the spring.

We’d fill our freezer with pie-portioned bags of berries then wait until the season turned cool and we craved the comfort of pie. My mom would usually make the pie, but my dad was equally capable. There were never really enough Saskatoons to last, so we’d hoard them for special occasions or our out-of-province and international guests or mix them with rhubarb. If you truly wanted to experience our Edmonton, you needed to taste our Saskatoon pie. I’ve grown up and moved to the other side of the river, and I still love to walk or bike in our river valley. It’s changed, but I can find traces of those ancient pathways when I am brave enough to step off the pavement.

I never spend as much time in the river valley as I’d like these days: I rarely remember to go when the Saskatoons are ripe. My experience of the bush has been reduced to the two Saskatoon bushes in my backyard. On a good year, they will fill three pies, but it isn’t quite the same. My dad still makes the annual pilgrimage and fills his freezer with berries from the river valley and, if I ask really nicely, he will give me a bag from his freezer with just enough berries to fill a pie.

I’ve learned to make pastry from scratch that is light and flaky. I too hoard Saskatoon berries in my freezer and only share with those special guests who need to taste my Edmonton. It’s the flavour of my family. It’s the memory of my mom in the kitchen as the heart of our family. It’s long ago afternoons in the river valley swinging on that homemade rope swing. It’s my dad still urging us to go for a walk together after dinner. It’s my dad being grandpa and forming the same traditions with his grandchildren. It’s the annual hunt for berries to fill our pie. It’s the smell of fresh pie out of the oven ready to share with people we love.

Saskatoon pie is the flavour of my nostalgia.

Annette Wierstra is an Edmonton writer and podcaster. Her day job is writing policy and procedure through her company, Scriptorium, but she spends her free time baking for friends and family and doing other creative endeavours.

This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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