Caps off to Haskaps – A Trendy New Berry on PEI

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Haskap Berries
Haskap Berries

It’s not often that I discover a new food on Prince Edward Island. Until recently, I had never heard of haskap berries and did not know that they were grown on PEI.  Earlier this month, I travelled to Rollo Bay in the Eastern end of the Island to view a five-acre field of haskap bushes and to have a chat with the growers.

Rows of Haskap Bushes
Rows of Haskap Bushes

Mother and daughter duo, Lynn and Becky Townshend, began growing 2500 haskap bushes five years ago. Haskap bushes are very hardy and can withstand cold winter temperatures. They are also fast-growing and, once established, are one of the season’s earliest plants to bear fruit.

Haskap Bushes
Haskap Bushes

Before meeting the Townshends, I did a little research on the elongated-shaped berries which are the color of blueberries. I imagined they would grow on a low bush and, because they somewhat resemble blueberries, thought they would taste something like traditional blueberries. However, that is not the case. Their color is where I find the similarity with blueberries ends. They grow on high bushes like the ones in the photograph below. These are five-year old bushes and they range in height probably between about 3-5 feet.

Haskap Bush
Haskap Bush

Haskaps have their origin in Siberia and are also found in Russia, Japan, and China. A few years ago, Dr. Bob Bors at the University of Saskatchewan developed the haskaps for commercial production. Haskaps are a member of the honeysuckle family and are sometimes referred to as honeyberries.

Haskap Berries
Haskap Berries

The Townshends grow four varieties of haskaps -Indigo Gem, Indigo Treat, Tundra, and Borealis. Some varieties are sweeter than others but, for the most part, I would class these berries as tart and they would not be ones I would be likely to eat in a bowl with milk and sugar as I would, say, blueberries or strawberries. Raw, according to my tastebuds, I would suggest the haskaps most closely resemble Concord grapes in flavour while cooked or baked, they are (in my opinion) perhaps closest to black currants.

Hand-picking Haskap berries
Hand-picking Haskap berries

Picking the berries is a tedious and time-consuming task. At present, there is no mechanical harvester available (at least locally) for haskaps which means they must all be picked by hand.

Hand-picking Haskap Berries
Hand-picking Haskap Berries

As Becky says, “they’re devils to pick”! This is because the berries grow in through the branches and leaves on the bushes and the branches have to be moved away from the plant to reveal the berries.

This labour-intensive task is what keeps the price of the berries high. At time of writing, Riverview Country Market in Charlottetown sells pint boxes of haskaps for $6.00 each.

Pint box of Haskaps
Pint box of Haskaps

So, what can you do with haskaps? They make a great syrup or sauce for pancakes, waffles, French toast, or over ice cream or as the sauce for a shortcake. They can be used in baked goods, alone or in combination with other fruits such as raspberries or blackberries (I find they pair really well with raspberry – the flavors blend together well). They are suitable for pies, muffins, and baked puddings as well as for jam. Haskap berries also freeze well for later use. Essentially, you could use haskaps in the same manner in which you would use blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries.

The recipe I have chosen to share today using haskaps is for a rich sauce. Adding a mere teaspoon of a high quality raspberry balsamic vinegar and just a dash of cardamom gives additional complexity and flavour to this sauce. This sauce is particularly good in Haskap Shortcake.

Haskap Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup haskap berries, fresh or frozen
½ cup super-fine sugar (aka caster sugar)
dash cardamom
1 tsp raspberry balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp water
1-2 tsp cornstarch

Method:

Place haskaps, sugar, cardamom, and raspberry balsamic vinegar in small bowl. Stir gently to release juice from berries. Do not break up berries. Let sit for 3-4 hours at room temperature (can be placed in covered bowl in refrigerator for up to 24 hours) to allow sugar to begin to naturally dissolve and for the flavors of the berries, balsamic vinegar, and cardamom to blend.

Transfer berries to saucepan and add about 1 tsp water or so, just enough so that the berries and sugar do not scorch (do not add too much water as the sauce will be too runny). Over medium-low heat, cook berries, stirring gently, just until mixture starts to boil.

In small cup, combine 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water to make paste. Temper with about 1 tablespoon of hot berry mixture then stir into berry mixture in saucepan. Cook and stir until mixture thickens to desired consistency.  Note: It may be necessary to add more cornstarch to reach desired thickness – repeat preceding procedure to mix in any additional cornstarch needed. Remove from heat and let cool. Store sauce in covered bottle in refrigerator for up to one week.

Yield: about ¾ cup

Serving Suggestion: Serve sauce over pancakes, French toast, waffles or ice cream. May also be used as a sauce for shortcake.

Hascap Shortcake

To make Hascap Shortcake, use your favorite sponge cake or biscuits.  Split cake or biscuit in half.  On bottom half, pipe a border of whipped cream around edge of cake or biscuit to form a dam to hold the sauce.  In center of whipped cream border, add about 1 tablespoon of hascap sauce.

Place top of cake or biscuit over whipped cream and sauce.   Drizzle more hascap sauce over top and add a dollop of whipped cream.

And, here is the finished product….

Haskap Shortcake
Haskap Shortcake

 

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