August 19, 2009
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.