The berry world has its less-than-romantic nomenclature. I mean, “straw” or “rasp” don’t scream, “Eat me!” But those berries eclipsed their names to become berry rockstars. Not so the serviceberry. Reddish-purple and shaped & textured like a small blueberry (but with more “red-berry” flavor to the juice) serviceberries are the fruit of one of America’s favorite ornamental trees. But most Americans don’t know the berries are edible. I’d love to change that.
We planted our serviceberry in our front yard as a landscape tree close to 20 years ago, loving it for its snowy-white ribbons of spring flowers, and the bright orange foliage of the fall. What we didn’t anticipate was that as the tree matured, it would give us enough June-ripe berries to eat fresh out-of-hand and to bake into at least one, yummy, seasonal pie. Better–we learned that serviceberries are nutritious, with a similar profile to blueberries, (but even higher in protein, dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium & manganese, and without blueberries’ troublesome oxalic acid) No wonder Native Americans used them to make pemmican!
While there are 15 varieties of serviceberry tree native to the United States, Amelanchier alnifolia are supposed to have the best fruit. And if you don’t have a serviceberry tree, you can easily find a bank, fitness club or office building with a whole row of them. Ask nicely and they’ll probably thank you for picking the berries so they don’t have to clean them off the sidewalk. Note: The little crunchy edible seeds in the berries (serviceberries are really “pomes” related to apples, pears and plums) release a pleasant almond scent when baked. Note 2: The serviceberry is known as the Saskatoon in Canada, and has also been called the sugarplum, juneberry and shadblow.
Makes 1, 9-inch pie
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 sticks (1 cup very cold butter)
- 5 Tbsp ice-cold milk or cream (I sometimes use evaporated milk)
- 7 cups serviceberries, picked over to remove stems, washed
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 Tbsp tapioca starch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- a little fresh-grated nutmeg
- juice and finely-grated zest from 1 fresh lemon
- 2 Tbsp butter
- Make pie crust: Pour flour, salt and sugar into a sifter; sift into a large wide bowl. Cut butter into small pieces over flour. Cut butter into the flour using two knives, your fingertips, or a pastry cutter until mixture resembles wet sand with some pea-sized bits of butter still in it. Stir milk into the flour mixture one Tbsp at a time, stirring lightly until the dough clumps. Spread counter with two pieces of plastic wrap. Remove dough onto the plastic wrap. Pulling the plastic wrap up and around the dough, gently squeeze and gather the dough into a ball. Divide ball in half. Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.
- Mix sugar and tapioca starch. Toss berries in sugar/tapioca mixture.
- Remove one of the dough disks and roll out. Ease dough into a nine-inch pie plate, leaving a little dough overhang. Fill dough with berry mixture. Squeeze 1/2 lemon over the sugared berries. Dot with butter.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Roll out second disk of dough. Using a pie-wheel or sharp knife, cut rolled-out dough circle into long strips about 1/2-inch wide. Loosely drape 1/2 of the strips across top of pie, top to bottom leaving small spaces between each strip. Going the other direction, weave remaining 1/2 of the strips over and under the placed strips to make a lattice top. Trim excess dough around pie plate. Crimp edges of pie to make a decorative edge.
- Bake pie in lower 1/3 of oven at 400 for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350; move pie to middle of oven and bake for an additional hour to hour and 1/2 until the filling is bubbling thickly up through the lattice. NOTE: Protect the edge of your pie crust with a thin strip of foil or a pie-rim protector if it seems to be browning too quickly.
- Remove pie from oven and let it rest for a bit on a rack.
- The little crunchy edible seeds in the berries (serviceberries are really “pomes” related to apples, pears and plums) release a pleasant almond scent when baked.
- The serviceberry is known as the saskatoon in Canada, and has also been called the sugarplum, juneberry and shadblow.