Growing up at her grandmother’s knee, learning to farm, forage and cook with the freshest ingredients, it’s no surprise that Candace Ippolito became the owner and CEO of the SaskMade Marketplace, a thriving business that showcases the best of what Saskatchewan’s farmers, food producers and artisans have to offer. Here, she recalls one of her favourite food memories: her grandmother’s Saskatoon berry crisp. “Every delicious bite of my grandmother’s Saskatoon berry crisp is a sticky, sweet flavour bomb, but there’s a lot more to it than that for me. My personal history is basically baked into that dessert.”
“Grandma’s crisp takes me back to the farm, where I grew up surrounded by my tight-knit family. Grandma and Grandpa lived right next door, and my aunt, uncle and cousins lived not too far away. As a kid, breakfast and lunch always took place at Grandma’s. Mom left early for work in town, so in the morning, my brother and I would have a quick bite with Grandma before boarding the school bus. At lunch, there was always a big made-from-scratch feast for everyone, including the men who worked with Dad and Grandpa on our cattle farm. Since Grandma was Irish, potatoes were always part of the meal. Every fall, we would dig the potatoes up and haul them down to her cold cellar in the basement, and every spring, we would haul about half of them back up again—never a shortage of potatoes. And since she had a huge garden, there were always veggies, too, either freshly picked or from her cellar stash of preserves and frozen vegetables.”
“The main attraction was usually a braised beef dish, but you never knew which parts you were going to get. Grandma was the original nose-to-tail chef! We never wasted a thing that was grown, butchered or foraged around our homestead.”
“Of course, Grandma’s spreads were never complete without her baked goods. She made wonderful cream puffs, rolls and fluffy biscuits. Best of all were her homemade pies, cinnamon buns, crisps and other sweet treats. Her Saskatoon berry crisp, always served with fresh whipped cream, was my favourite. There’s something about the texture. The base was ripe Saskatoon berries melted down, soft and sweet; then the crumb topping was really brown and rich and had kind of a caramelized taste to it. With every mouthful, you’d get a sweet, syrupy start, then finish with a delicate buttery crunch. I don’t know how else to put it except to say that, to me, that crisp tastes like love.”
“You know what else? To me, this recipe tastes like the month of July. July is the only time of year for harvesting Saskatoons. Our whole family would go up to a friend’s property, each of us with an empty ice cream pail in hand, and we weren’t allowed to quit until everyone’s pail was full. The older kids were always happy to help out the younger ones—otherwise, the day would never end! That once-a-year outing set us up with enough berries to last a long time. We sometimes worried about finding bears up there in the hills, and I sure didn’t like wearing Grandpa’s ugly old work shirts that protected us from the prickly bushes and mosquitoes as big as hawks—but all the same, I have really happy memories of those berry-picking days.”
“For a lot of my friends, memories of their grandmothers are about going for ice cream or shopping at a mall. We’re a fourth-generation farming family, so that’s not my experience. For me, it’s about sitting on a veranda, peeling carrots or shelling peas. It’s about pulling potatoes in the garden, gathering eggs from the chicken coop or picking Saskatoons. ‘Busy hands’ is what we used to call our time with my grandparents. There was always some work project going on with us, and that’s OK. She instilled in us that a family that works together, stays together!”
Grandma Betsy’s Saskatoon Berry Crisp
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
4 cups freshly picked Saskatoon berries (if using frozen
berries, they must be completely thawed and excess moisture removed)
¾ cup flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ cup cold butter
1. Add berries to buttered 10- x 6-inch (3 L) baking dish.
2. In bowl, mix together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture is in coarse crumbs.
3. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over berries. Bake in 350° F oven for 40 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
Published August 21, 2015, Updated August 20, 2018
Photo courtesy of Candace Ippolito