For the second year I made my way to Saskatchewan in July for the U of S Haskap Day. You’re welcome to view my Haskap Day 2012 Report and Haskap Day 2012 Fotos and the North American Fruit Exchange (NAFEX) presentations may be viewed here.
I always appreciate visiting with other haskap (honeyberry/blue honeysuckle) growers and Clayton and Marg Wiebe welcomed me once again to their farm. Unfortunately, the Cedar Waxwings ferociously devoured every single berry before they were ripe. And that was through the netting. Next year Clayton says they will have to put a frame up for the netting away from the plants and secure it to the ground.
The birds at the U of S picked clean the outer few rows, but apparently the plots are large enough to satisfy the local avian crowd until the flock decides to hold a national convention! I was able to pick samples of Borealis, Tundra, and Indigo Gem (9.15) and take a closer look at their various features.
While most Borealis pick nicely, occasionally the stem will pull off some skin creating what we call a “wet scar”. Once in a while the stem will remain attached. The skin also ruptures more easily than the other selections. They do not “shake and drop” as easily as Tundra, but a lot of berries do fall to the ground on their own if not picked in time. The foliage is so dense that the berries tend to mold if not picked. But don’t let those observations deter you. Overall, Borealis picks quite clean, and handled with care will do just fine for the home gardener. People who like sweet tartness choose this berry.
Since the Tundra bush is much more open and the berries have a more durable skin, I did not notice any moldy berries at all. Tundra did not seem to drop as many berries, but they also pull off very easily and can be shaken off as well, without as much damage to the berry. While not usually chosen in taste tests as the preferred berry for fresh eating, Tundra’s overall features still make it an excellent selection. It has a mild zing and subdued sweetness.
Indigo Gem’s distinctive feature is the chewy sweetness of the berry. Since it grows on an open bush that looks very similar to Tundra, the berries do not seem to mold and remain edible as they start to dehydrate. The skin is not quite as durable as Tundra. While chosen by most people for its sweetness fresh off the bush, it lacks the zing that some people really like for jams and jellies, but works well in combination with the other berries.
Fresh berries off the bush is one thing, but once you cook them up they all have even more distinctive features that affect the taste and consistency of different recipes. The discerning chef will want to experiment with the different cultivars, but for everyday cooking a mixture of berries works well.
One tablespoon of sugar per cup of berries was sufficient to take the edge off the tartness. One cup of berries cooks down to half a cup of sauce. Pectin can be added to this ratio to make jam, or you can add more sugar and cook the mixture longer to thicken.
I asked a neighbor of my parents (who live in Saskatoon) to make something with Splenda. She used 2 tablespoons with a cup of Borealis plus no-sugar pectin to make a delicious tart filling. I could taste a hint of Splenda through the berries, but topping the tarts with a bit of ice cream masked that flavor just fine!
My conclusion so far is that all of these varieties are great for the home gardener. Everyone has different preferences of taste. Some even prefer the fresh berries of one cultivar but will have a different choice after the fruit is cooked, and yet another choice dependent on the accompanying food.
For the commercial grower, greater care must be taken to select the bush and berry that will work best for them. Tundra wins hands down for machine harvesting, and Indigo Gem could work as well, but dome-shaped Borealis grows too close to the ground, as well as having berries that tend to bleed. For the mid-size commercial grower who will hand pick, the heavy foliage of Borealis makes it more time consuming to find all the berries, but the demand for the flavor may outweigh the inconvenience.
Personally, I like all three berries fresh. Indigo Gem is the sweetest and has a nice chewy texture. Borealis is the tartest but sweet at the same time. Tundra has a quieter flavor which carries a slight tang. When it comes to cooked berries, I like Borealis the best. It has a flavor that I describe as “Alive!”. It has a floral aroma much stronger than the others. Second, I would select a mixture of the three. Tundra comes in at a close third, while Indigo Gem was not as interesting to me cooked as it was for fresh eating. But that’s me. You might put them in a different order!
And finally, just for fun, a berry that shows the composition of haskap – double berries inside a skin. All that skin contributes to the high number of antioxidants in Lonicera caerulia L.