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It’s fruit-picking time

Prairie Fare: Make the most of Manitoba’s short season

We are fortunate to have an incredible variety of fruit here on the Prairies.

We have apples, cherries, choke­cherries, crabapples, currants, gooseberries, grapes, has­kaps or honeyberries, melons, pears, plums, raspberries, saskatoons, strawberries and many more. It’s enough to make one’s mouth water.

Our beautiful, jewel-coloured fruit is high in antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients making it both delicious and nutritious. And yes, some of our fruit is a little tart, but that’s what makes it so unique and ideal for using in both sweet and savoury dishes.

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From barbecue sauce to salads, pies to muffins and jams to juice, Prairie fruit has a lot to offer and picking season has already begun.

If you don’t have fruit growing in your yard or if you don’t know of a secret spot to pick wild chokecherries or saskatoons, the best way to get access to fresh, local Prairie fruit is through a U-pick farm. In Manitoba, there are over 30 U-pick farms offering strawberries, raspberries, saskatoons and tree fruit such as sour cherries, apples and plums. Some farms also offer haskaps or honeyberries, asparagus, garlic and other vegetables.

The Prairie Fruit Growers Association (PFGA), a non-profit organization representing Manitoba fruit growers, has a newly launched website (www.pfga.com) featuring an interactive map of all U-pick farms from Swan River to Reinland. Unique icons represent the type of fruit available, pinpoint farm locations, provide detailed contact information and list a description of each farm. A visit to the PFGA website is a great start to planning your fruit picking.

Angie Cormier, executive director of the PFGA said last week “the fruit is looking good and growers are excited to welcome pickers to their farms.” If conditions stay hot and sunny, she anticipates strawberry picking will be in full swing during the first two weeks of July. Strawberry season is quickly followed by saskatoons, sour cherries, raspberries and apples. While she predicts a good season, she does caution that it’s a short season, so if you’re eager to pick, plan ahead and carve out some time on your calendar.

When you are ready to go picking, here are a few tips to make the most of your trip:

  • Call ahead. Don’t hesitate to call the farm. Conditions change quickly, so U-pick farmers encourage you to call before you visit to find out what you can expect. It’s also a great time to ask about what to bring (e.g. containers) and other amenities available.
  • Time your visit. Weekday mornings are ideal for beating the heat and weekend crowds.
  • Wear a hat, comfy clothes and sturdy footwear. You’ll be out in the field exposed to sun, heat, mulch and soil (which may be wet from rain or irrigation).
  • Bring a water bottle. You’ll enjoy your visit much more if you stay well hydrated.
  • Bring cash. Not every farm has access to credit or debit machines out in the field.

Should you bring your kids to a U-pick? Absolutely, it’s a wonderful activity and tradition to share with kids. But put yourself in the right frame of mind and recognize that when you bring your kids, you won’t get a lot of picking done. The younger the child, the more supervision and help they’ll need from you. Kids, even older ones, have a much shorter attention span, so don’t expect to pick for a long time.

If you want to focus your energy on picking rather than watching your kids, bring a babysitter, older cousin, grandmother or family friend to entertain the kids while you fill as many baskets as you can. You’ll all have a much more pleasant experience when you take everyone’s ability into consideration.

When you get your fruit home, use it or process it as soon as you can. But don’t freeze, can or jam it all. Leave a little to enjoy in recipes like the following.

Chicken Pasta Salad with Saskatoon Berries

  • 2-1/2 c. cooked chicken (cubed)
  • 3 c. pasta (shells, rotini, penne)
  • 1 c. celery (sliced)
  • 1 c. pea pods
  • 1/4 c. parsley (chopped)
  • 1 c. fresh saskatoon berries
  • 1/2 c. red pepper (finely chopped)
  • 1/4 c. red onion (chopped)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp. basil (fresh and chopped)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Dressing:

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/3 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Cook pasta. About one minute before it’s finished, add pea pods. Drain and rinse with cold water. In large bowl, toss pasta and pea pods with parsley, saskatoons, red peppers, red onion and basil. In small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, add to salad and toss well. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Recipe Source: Prairie Fruit Growers Association.

Homemade Fruit Gelatin

Make homemade “jello” using fresh, frozen or canned fruit juice.

  • 2 c. fruit juice (raspberry, sour cherry or grape)
  • 2 tbsp. sugar (more if desired)
  • 1 tbsp. unflavoured gelatin (1 pouch)

Place 1/4 cup juice in large bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Heat 1/4 cup juice until just about boiling. Add hot juice to gelatin and stir briskly until gelatin is completely dissolved. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add remainder of juice. Pour into serving dish or individual dishes and allow to set for four hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream.

Makes four half-cup servings.

Recipe Source: www.gettystewart.com

Chicken Pasta Salad with Saskatoon Berries .
photo: Prairie Fruit Growers Association

About the author

Contributor

Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit www.gettystewart.com.

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