August 19, 2009

Huckleberry Heaven


I interrupt my regularly scheduled gardening post to write instead about huckleberries, a delicacy that grows only in the mountains of the northwestern United States (and probably parts of Canada). My grandma tried many times to transplant a bush into her Spokane garden, without success. I'd plant my backyard full of huckleberry shrubs if I could get them to grow down here.


Huckleberries and the picking of them occupy places of honor in my family's traditions. Over sixty years ago, my grandparents began making annual trips to the nearby mountains to pick huckleberries. Gradually children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren started coming along. Though my grandparents didn't make the trip this year, we had a large group gather from across the country to carry on the tradition.


Huckleberries are related to blueberries and resemble their cousins, though they are usually smaller and more purple than blue. Their flavor is much more intense. They add some tart zing to muffins, pancakes or my favorite: huckleberry pie.


We drive far along bumpy mountain roads to find our favorite spot - which I can't reveal lest I be disowned - high in the Idaho mountains. Recycled milk jugs are attached to belt loops, and we pick madly for a few hours before heading home. This year hubby and I brought home enough for eight pies.


The berries are washed, dried, spread on cookie sheets and frozen before being double-bagged and kept in the freezer for treats - mostly pies - throughout the year. If you ever happen to get your hands on a quart of huckleberries (local fruit stands often sell them in August for about $40 per gallon), here's our pie recipe. It tastes best with homemade vanilla ice cream, but store bought will do in a pinch.

Huckleberry Pie - 9 or 10 inch size
3 1/2 to 4 cups huckleberries
1 cup sugar*
3 Tablespoons Tapioca
pinch of salt
pie pastry for a double crust

Mix berries, sugar, Tapioca and salt in a microwavable bowl and microwave until hot (usually several minutes - time varies depending on your microwave and whether berries are frozen or fresh). Place bottom crust in 9 or 10 inch pie pan. Pour berry mixture into bottom pie crust, add top and cut slits into top crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn heat down and bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes. The pie is definitely finished if the filling bubbles out around the edges!

*I like my huckleberry pie on the tart side (it works best with the sweet ice cream this way), but if you prefer a milder flavor, then you can add up to 3 Tablespoons more of sugar.

18 comments:

  1. Oh VW you are killing me! Huckleberries are the best. My uncle owns a place on the Pend Oreille River he tells a great story of picking berries and coming face to face with a bear who was doing the same. Luckily they both just kept on picking.

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  2. Sounds delicious!

    I've never eaten huckleberries sadly

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  3. Hi VW, yummy for pies made from this exquisite little berry. We first tasted it in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas outside of Eureka Springs at a little hole in the wall restaurant that featured locally caught rainbow trait AND huckleberry pie. I believe they are found in western North Carolina too. If some show up at the market, you can bet I will be using your recipe! :-)
    Frances

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  4. Make the rainbow trout. Sorry. :-)

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  5. Okay, third time's the charm. Make THAT rainbow trout. What else can be wrong here? :-)

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  6. Looks like you reaped a great deal of Huckleberries!! It is really nice that it is a family tradition. Lots of fun for everyone.

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  7. That sure is a big group. The huckleberries look great. I've never had them but bet I'd like them!

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  8. Frances, I'm glad to hear that huckleberries grow in the southeast, as well.
    DG - I don't think we've ever seen a bear, though they are supposed to love these berries. I contemplated dumping all my berries on the ground, then running, if I ever saw a bear. Hopefully the bear would go for the berries instead of me? This wouldn't work for my kiddos, who eat almost every berry they pick instead of filling up their buckets.

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  9. Mouth watering recipe...And, what a wonderful tradition! I love the idea of tying the plastic milk jugs to your belt loops...It makes it so much better to pick with two hands! gail

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  10. I admire your stamina, I would only last an hour and I would be DONE! They look awesome.

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  11. Hi VW~~ I could see from the photo that your grandparents are alive and well. It must have been a joyful reunion. The huckleberries sound tempting. And the pie LOOKS tempting. Yum!

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  12. VW that is a great shot of the family and the description of how it is such a tradition is wonderful : )
    I have never tried these berries before and I am curious about them .. especially after seeing that pie ? LOL
    I remember picking blueberries as a kid in Nova Scotia .. that aroma .. a warm summer day .. crickets .. eating more than picking .. well those are wonderful memories I love to hold on to myself : )
    Now I wonder if huckleberries are any where in Ontario ? LOL
    Joy : )

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  13. Too cruel, VW - mouthwater photo, delicious looking recipe, followed by the crushing blow that due to their limited growing area, I may never get to sample huckleberry anything!

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  14. How fun that you all do that together. I love huckleberries, they are such a treat to find out in the woods. I've never found enough for a pie, yours looks delicious!

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  15. wow. we get huckleberries in the bay area, but i've never had so many at one time that i could make a pie.

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  16. If you really want to grow them you should try saving a seed or two from the berries that you pick and grow them that way. They Don't transplant well because most likely the "bush" that you are digging up is just a branch of the plant, while the true root is much deeper and centered in the colony. Most of the "bushes" are going to be part of one main plant. However, since your family enjoys the tradition you can keep getting them that way.

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  17. I remember eating huckleberries from a bush in my uncle's yard in Seattle back in the mid 60's. Where he lived was out in the boondocks at the time--now it is just part of one giant sprawling city. And yes, we had to watch out for bears in the neighborhood back then!

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