2014 Huckleberry Season Looking Good!

Posted July 24, 2014 By sandy

We have heard from many pickers around the Rocky Mountain region that this years huckleberry crop is as good — or maybe even better — than the 2009 season.  Rainfall and spring temps were ideal for growing a bumper crop of juicy huckleberries.

Huckleberry Season

The Spokesman Review has picked up on the excitement in their recent article:

Landers: Huckleberry season has pickers bursting with excitement

…The huckleberry season is underway at lower elevations and the pleasure is working its way up the region’s mountainsides as the berries ripen….

…The picking season generally starts in this region in the first or second week of July at elevations around 2,400 feet, such as the stretch of lowland between Priest River and Priest Lake. Snow cover is needed to insulate the plants to survive during the winter, so huckleberries are rarely found at lower elevations.

The berries are ripening at higher elevations this week, but the peak range of ripe berries occurs in August….

…“Last week I was in the woods with some friends and we found many ripe huckleberries and many more that were not yet ripe,” said Phil Cooper, Idaho Fish and Game conservation educator in Coeur d’Alene.  “Most plants were very heavy with berries, so it should be a banner year for picking.”…


Yes, it sounds like a good year to go huckleberry picking!

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Huckleberry Festivals

Posted July 23, 2014 By sandy

The Spokesman Review is posting upcoming Huckleberry Festivals around the northern Rockies.

Here are two that are were featured in the Review’s website:

Huckleberry Festivals

Sorry to see we missed the Priest Lake Huckleberry Festival, but it is not too late to check our the Schweitzer Mountain Huckleberry Festival.

Watch for more festivals are they are posted!

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I found this article on the CDA Press website:

Idaho’s state fruit starting to ripen

Idaho has a state flower, a state horse, a state bird, a state fish, a state flag, and…a state fruit. So designated by the Idaho Legislature in 2000, it is the huckleberry.

At this time of year, it is not too surprising that the huckleberry is the state fruit. Just about everybody in North Idaho looks forward to huckleberry picking. Huckleberries freeze well and can provide a very healthy addition to your table or to your breakfast smoothie all year long.

There are several species of huckleberries native to Idaho. The most common and most popular is the “Black,” or “Thin-Leaved” huckleberry. Some plant guides, including “Common Plants of the Inland Pacific Northwest,” a guide written by highly respected and widely recognized plant ecologist Dr. Charles Johnson, call the species “big huckleberry.”

This species grows in moist, cool forested environments at mid to upper elevations. Berries are purple to purplish red and are a quarter to half an inch broad, depending upon the year and the site.

The plants grow up to three feet tall and take up to 15 years to reach full maturity. The single, dark purple berries grow on the shoots the plant produced that year.

I found it very interesting that the article referenced the huckleberry rake we sell:

Several stores in the area carry rectangular boxes with stiff wires on the underside that are made just for picking huckleberries. They are intended to make the rather slow process of picking faster and more efficient. Some people can pick moHuckleberry Picking Rakere with the contraption, others say they can pick just as fast by hand.

There are drawbacks to the use of a picker. Unlike berries picked entirely by hand, those picked with a picker need to be separated at home from the leaves and twigs that are inadvertently picked along with the berries. Personally, I think that I pick berries a little faster with a picker, but the time spent separating afterward probably negates any benefits.

When using a picker, many of the small berries will pass between the wires of a picker and remain on the bush. To be more efficient, some of the picker designs need to have the wires bent in a little so they are closer when picking berries that are on the small side.

Some serious “huck-sters” don’t like for other people to use pickers because they believe the pickers can damage the plants. That perspective may or may not be accurate, and I don’t think there is any clear indication either way.

After much research, we have found that, when used correctly, the huckleberry rakes DO NOT damage the plants.  We even had Dr. Dan Barney (Dr. Huckleberry)  test the rakes for us, and agrees with us.

For more information on using huckleberry rakes, check out Malcolm’s Huckleberry Picking Tips Sheet.

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Huckleberry Hand Pies

Posted July 9, 2014 By sandy

With the start of huckleberry season, I always like to feature as many huckleberry recipes as I can find.

My husband found this Huckleberry Hand Pies for us.  The original recipe called for blueberries …. but as a huckleberry lover, you know that huckleberries will make this recipe even better tasting!!

Huckleberry Hand Pies

Huckleberry Hand Pies


  • Pastry
  • --2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • --1/2 teaspoon salt
  • --1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • --1 cup (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
  • --1/2 cup cold sour cream
  • Filling
  • --2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • --1/4 cup sugar
  • --1 tablespoon Instant ClearJel
  • --2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Topping
  • --1 large egg, beaten
  • --white sparkling sugar, for garnish


  1. To make the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, working it in to make a coarse/crumbly mixture. Leave most of the butter in large, pea-sized pieces.
  2. Stir in the sour cream; the dough won't be cohesive. Turn it out onto a floured work surface, and bring it together with a few quick kneads.
  3. Pat the dough into a rough log, and roll it into an 8" x 10" rectangle. Dust both sides of the dough with flour, and starting with a shorter end, fold it in three like a business letter.
  4. Flip the dough over, give it a 90° turn on your work surface, and roll it again into an 8" x 10" rectangle. Fold it in three again.
  5. Wrap the dough, and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
  6. To make the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until the mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked berries to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.
  7. Preheat the oven to 425°F; place a rack on the middle shelf. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. To assemble the pies: Roll the dough into a 14" x 14" square. With a straight edge and pastry wheel, or a 3 1/2" square cutter, cut out sixteen 3 1/2" squares.
  9. Divide the filling among eight of the squares, using about a heaping tablespoon for each. Brush some of the beaten egg along the edges of each filled square.
  10. Cut a vent into the each of the remaining eight squares, using a decorative cutter of your choice.
  11. Top each filled square with a vented square, and press along the edges with the tines of a fork or a pie crust crimper to seal.
  12. Brush the top of each pie with the remaining beaten egg, and sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Transfer the pies to the prepared baking sheet.
  13. Bake the pies for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and let cool for 20 minutes before serving.
  14. Yield: 8 hand pies.
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Happy eating!!

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Huckleberry BBQ Sauce

Posted June 28, 2014 By sandy

Barbecue season is here!

How about surprising your family and friends, with something to try out on the barbie grill?

At Tastes of Idaho, we carry the ORIGINAL (and still the best) huckleberry BBQ sauce from Gem Berry Products. A beefy 16 oz bottle, that pours well, and is great on salmon, chicken, pork, beef or wild game! A slightly sweet, savory sauce with bits of REAL huckleberry dotted about.

Huckleberry BBQ sauce is a tasty dressing laced with whole huckleberries and blueberries anHuckleberry BBQ Sauced hand-made in small batches to enhance the natural flavor of this wild mountain fruit.

Labeled attractively in 16 oz. glass bottles, this BBQ sauce has the ambiance of a sweet and sour tomato based sauce that, in my opinion, is to die for!!

First time I tasted it was in a meatball dish and it was heavenly!

Uses of Huckleberry BBQ Sauce
*Glaze for poultry, fish, pork or beef dishes
*Dipping sauce
*Add flavor to any tomato based dishes
*Any applications where you would use BBQ Sauce

Here is what some of our customers have said about Gem Berry’s Huckleberry BBQ Sauce”

“We purchased a bottle of your Huckleberry BBQ sauce and we just loved it. The only problem is, I can’t remember where I bought it … We really need some ribs with your sauce on them!! We took a ton of ribs to a neighborhood block party that had your sauce on them. They were a hit. Our neighbors want to buy your sauce also.”
P. Bulkley from Spokane, Washington

Check out the Huck Barbecue sauce here! And while you are there, check out all the other wonderful huckleberry products at Tastes of Idaho


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Dr Barney Interview, Part Two

Posted April 17, 2014 By sandy

Continuation of the interview with Dr Danny Barney on the western huckleberry:

5.  Why did you choose to pursue domesticating the huckleberry and why did you stop?

Dr Barney:

  •  Being a native of Idaho, I grew up picking huckleberries in late summer and autumn, as did my father, grandfather, and their grandfathers. The fruit is a significant part of community and family culture in some parts of western North America. When I returned to Idaho as a professor of horticulture and small fruit specialist in 1988, I was naturally inclined to work with the berries and to see if they could be cultivated.
  • Western huckleberries and bilberries have a long history of trade use, predating European settlers by centuries. Between the beginning of the twentieth century and World War II, the crops were heavily harvested commercially. Although the industry died out with the creation of technology and high-paying jobs following the war, it was reborn again in the 1980s, largely due to ecotourism and the gift trade.
  • Unfortunately, demand for the flavorful fruits far outstripped supplies, leading to HB grown in containersoverharvest and serious damage to some easily-accessible stands. Huckleberry patches that my family had picked from for a century were devastated. Some of my Native American friends pointed out to me that their families had been harvesting from those same stands for a millennia or more earlier.
  • Demand for the fruits was strong and growing, supplies were short, and improper or excessive harvesting was having adverse environmental and social consequences. That situation continues today and one option is to produce the fruits in cultivation, as we do highbush and lowbush blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. My goal was to provide large-scale processors and exporters with consistent supplies of high-quality fruit at reasonable prices, while conserving wild stands for smaller niche processors, and personal and cultural use by the residents and visitors to huckleberry country.

6.    What are some distinguishing features of the huckleberry that I should include or focus on in a documentary? How do you introduce the berry to people who have never heard of it?

Dr Barney:

  • Western huckleberries and bilberries closely resemble their eastern highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry cousins in the appearance of the plants and fruits. They are, however, less closely related to eastern huckleberries, which are far less palatable.
  • Western huckleberries differ in several important ways from domestic blueberries. For most western species, the berries have much less pulp than domestic blueberries and have thin skins that tear when the berries are picked. As a consequence, the berries leak large amounts of juice when they are picked, and the berries are nearly always processed, rather than being used fresh for table use. Domestic blueberries have thick, tough skins and come from the stems easily without tearing. This characteristic makes them ideal as a fresh finger food.
  • Huckleberries also have different flavor chemistries than their domestic cousins and are prized for their powerful and exotic flavors. Depending on the cultivar, domestic blueberries have fair to excellent flavor, but little aroma. Some western huckleberry species, such as Cascade huckleberry and mountain huckleberry, are rich in esters, giving them powerful and pleasant aromas. Their flavors are also different than blueberries, sometimes described as being “wild” or “spicy.” All blue-colored blueberries and huckleberries (these crops also produce red, pink, and white berries) are rich in anthocyanin pigments and antioxidant activity. One of the species that I worked with is exceptionally high in antioxidant activity, but lacking in flavor and aroma. My work with that crop was directed toward the nutraceutial and health foods industries.

7.    Are there any other wild plants that have economies / industries surrounding them the way the huckleberry does?

Dr. Barney:

  • Practically anywhere you go, you will find native crops that have deep cultural and economic roots. In some cases, the crops have been cultivated, in others they have not and people cherish the wild nature of the crops. Wild mushroom harvesting, for example, is practiced on a large scale in many parts of the world and many of those mushroom species have defied attempts to cultivate them. In the southern United States, mayhaw (a crabapple-like fruit) has long been harvested from the wild and cultivation is in its infancy.

8.    Do you have any contacts who could be considered “experts” on huckleberries who might be interested in appearing in a documentary on huckleberries?

  •  I suggest contacting my friend Mr. Malcolm Dell (with the International Wild Huckleberry Association). He is a huckleberry expert and processor who is passionate about the crop and knows just about everyone who works with them.
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Dr Barney Interview on the Western Huckleberry

Posted April 10, 2014 By sandy

Recently, Dr. Danny L Barney was interviewed by Jenna Pittaway, journalism student at the University of Southern California, who is researching the huckleberry for a possible documentary.

Here are his responses to questions relating to western huckleberries:

1.  What does it mean to be domesticated and why is the huckleberry considered undomesticated?

Dr Barney: Western huckleberries and bilberries include nine species in western North America that are close relatives of domestic blueberries. I use the term “western huckleberries” to distinguish them from huckleberries found in eastern North America, which are distant cousins. The terms huckleberry, bilberry, blueberry, and whortleberry are interchangeable and most crops are known by several to many different names.

  • Western huckleberries and bilberries are undomesticated in that the plants are general harvested from the wild. The crops are generally not grown in fields or gardens and virtually all of the berries that are used personally or commercially are harvested from naturally-occurring stands, quite often on public lands. Those stands receive little, if any, management in terms of the berry crops. Aside from my program at the University of Idaho from 1994-2010, there has been little breeding done with these crops, and no named cultivars (cultivated varieties) have been released for public or commercial use.

2.  May you provide a summary of your research? How far along were you in d.barney #1, Elk Riverdomesticating the huckleberry and where did you leave your research – could someone pick up where you left off, or is it sort of gone forever?

Dr Barney: My research involved studying the biology of the plants and the habitats in which they are found, which includes the soils, climate, topography, and other plants growing in the same habitats. I collected seeds and plants from all nine species from the five Northwestern states, California, and Alaska and grew out and evaluated the plants for their potential for cultivated fruit production.

  • After determining which species showed the greatest potential for commercial fruit production, and which sites produced the best plants and fruit, I expanded my collection trips to develop a substantial germplasm collection for breeding. The term “germplasm” refers to genetic resources, in this case live plants and seeds.
  • From the many thousands of seedlings that I grew, I selected a handful that approached the standards I had set for characteristics such as upright, vigorous plant growth, and large fruits with good flavor, color, and acid to sugar balance. From those relatively few plants, I identified the most promising parents and made crosses by transferring pollen from one plant to another under very controlled conditions. In that way, I knew which offspring came from which parents.
  • That program continued until the research station that I worked at and managed was closed due to budget cuts, and I left the University of Idaho to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I do not know of any other huckleberry and bilberry domestication programs that are now ongoing in North America, although there is some work being done with the closely-related European blueberry or bilberry that grows across parts of Europe and Asia.
  • I created a large amount of published information, much of it readily available on line, describing the crops, my research results, and recommendations for future breeding and research. I also taught many classes and workshops on the subject. Published research on the crops by Dr. Don Minore (retired, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Nellie Stark (retired, University of Montana) is also available. Seeds are easy to collect from the wild, and I donated part of my seed collection to the United States National Plant Germplasm System, where it is maintained at germplasm repositories in Oregon, Colorado, and even the seed vault in Svalbard, Norway.
  • I expect to retire in less than two years and plan to resume my huckleberry and bilberry breeding program in Alaska.
  • For an introduction to huckleberries and my work, do an internet search using the words “barney huckleberry university of idaho.”

3.  Were there past efforts to domesticate the berry, or was your work the first serious attempt?

Dr Barney:

  • Several Native American and First Peoples groups in North America relied heavily on western huckleberry and bilberry crops for food and trade. Some of the nations were expert at managing naturally-occurring stands to keep the berry fields open and productive. Fire was one of the tools that they used for managing the stands.
  • European settlers to western North America quickly began attempts to cultivate huckleberries and bilberries, usually by digging up plants and transplanting them to gardens. Those attempts nearly all failed and the myth was born that huckleberries cannot be cultivated. In reality, the problem was that what people thought were bushes were generally little more than branches from the underground stems that make up much of the plant body for some species. Digging up plants from the wild is seldom successful because few roots are dug up with the “bushes.” For practical, as well as environmental, reasons, I stopped removing plants from the wild many years ago and grew my plants from seed. Based on what we have learned about the plants and their habitat requirements, I was able to grow thousands of huckleberry and bilberry plants quite successfully, as did colleagues in Oregon and Montana.

4.  Is anyone pursuing the domestication of the huckleberry presently?

Dr Barney:  Not that I am aware of.

More of this interview next week!

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Harvey, the Huckleberry, Speaks Out on Abuse

Posted March 26, 2014 By sandy

Hi, my name is Harvey. I’m a wild huckleberry.

This is my story.

I was raised, with my siblings, in the beautiful, for­ested mountains of rural Idaho, Huckleberry bushmuch like where you probably live.

Sure, we were not the largest huckleberries on the hill — maybe not even the sweetest — but we lived in harmony with the mosquitoes, and occasionally shared a meal with a black bear or jay.

One day, when I was a teenager, and nearing the prime of my life, a group of purple-fingered bandits came through our community patch, and kidnapped us — my entire family, and ALL of my kinfolk! I think only my sister Henrietta was spared, by jumping from a fumble-fingered bandit, then hiding in the grass.

We were then dumped, unceremoniously, into a large, stifling box, moved by car to a holding facility, and nearly drowned in ice water, where we were stripped of our green, leafy wardrobe. Then they threw us into tiny cells in a facility with NO HEATING or oxygen! I choked and shivered for DAYS.

Then they started coming to get us… slowly at first, then in buckets.

The first tale of abuse, came from smothering in bat­ter, and dropping onto hot oil, while those heartless bandits laughed and cheered in anticipation of our de­mise.

Then, victims were rolled in sweet white sand, and BOILED, before dislocation to glass cells. Others were forced to desegregate, and share living quarters with granola, flour, popcorn, apples, jalapenos, honey, ginger, poppyseeds, fruit juices, and even… our poor tasteless cousin, the blueberry! Gasp!

Some of my closest cousins were boiled in acid, and labeled as lemonade or dressing. Many of us were pulverized, and smashed into confections. I still have nightmares of those grinning little bug-eyed bandits with purple slobber drooling off their chins, while chew­ing on my friends, and making horrifying “ummm” sounds.

On my dad’s side of the family, many were suffo­cated in various colors of chocolate, and wrapped in a cold, aluminum blankets. Some were CAFFEINATED, in tea or coffee, and forced to lay awake for weeks.

This can’t continue… I MUST find a way to escape.

Oh no… MY CELL is moving now. Maybe this is it, my time to get away. Yes, we are heading toward the door. The bandit is leaning over and unzipping our cell, YES… but wait, no – what is that boiling liquid? I’m falling—

Oh, oh! Looks like Harvey got himself into a jam. (Excuse the pun.) Hopefully, he will not be back, to share his tale of abuse in someone’s digestive tract.

In the meantime, TASTES OF IDAHO - where all the huckleberry goodies Harvey mentioned can be found – would like to re-assure you that, in spite of the allegations, Harvey and his family were treated humanely. All berries used in prod­ucts at TASTES OF IDAHO are certified natural, free range, fair trade, cage free, no spray, sus­tainably harvested, no animal testing (except for bears), and healthy (as long as you don’t read the ingredients labels!)

To enjoy the further adventures of Harvey, please stop by our store www.TastesofIdaho.com and turn wild huckleberries into a key part of your gift giving and get-togethers. After all, wild huckleberries are the IDAHO STATE FRUIT. Don’t get to Christmas without huckleberries in your holiday!


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Update on Dr. Barney’s Huckleberry Research

Posted March 12, 2014 By sandy

Many of you know of Dr. Dan Barney’s huckleberry research.  If not, the International Wild Huckleberry Association followed his research until the UI closed his center in 2010 (See Dr. Barney’s Research).

Dr. Barney research, since 2004 (as documented on our site), resulted in finding successful methods to propagate the wild huckleberry from the norther Rockies area.  Much of our original information posted on this site, came from Dr. Barney’s notes, workshops and documentation.Dr. Barney and Huckleberry plants

After Dr. Barney left Idaho, he was forced to abandon his research.  The lab was dismantled and his plants were sold and donated to nurseries and interested folks in the area.

Since that time, we have had some contact with Dr. Barney, but nothing more than a note here and there telling us a bit about his new job(s) and his family.  I was sad to hear that he had stopped his research.

Recently, I received an exciting note from him talking about his next big project that I would like to share.

Some good news. I ran germination tests on my (huckleberry) seed last month. The trip down from Alaska was less than smooth and the trucking company lost our household goods for two months in 100 degree plus weather. I expected all of the seed to be dead, but germination rates are still very good. All of the breeding lines are alive and well and ready to start next year when we return to Alaska. I also have an extensive new collection of alpine bilberry seed (a.k.a. Alaska blueberry in the north) that came from outstanding plants. I expect to have selections ready to release quite quickly, including some that should do well in the lower 48. The crop is extremely adaptable and flourishes from southern Alaska to well north of Fairbanks. The flavor is not quite as good as the Idaho huckleberry, but a little tweaking and a few crosses between the two should produce an easy-to-grow plant with excellent flavor and aroma.

We still have about 18 months before I can retire. We finished our retirement home in Alaska last November and are renting it out for now….. We have just under an acre of land, plenty to do my berry and rhubarb breeding work. The growers there are tremendous and I will have no difficulty getting people to test the selections. ….

We miss Idaho. That is where I was born and where we lived for many years … The people there are great and I appreciate all the support that I had for my program.

Great news!!  We will be looking forward to more info from Dr. Barney (affectionately known as “Dr. Huckleberry”) and his continuing research.

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The Huckleberry Book — Cake Recipe

Posted February 19, 2014 By sandy

Huckleberries are wrapped in secrecy and hidden in the wilderness, and only come out every other year.  Or, huckleberries are everywhere in abundance always, and anyone can find them whenever they please.

Huckleberries are sweet.  Huckleberries are sour.  Huckleberries are woman’s work, or a job for a man.  Huckleberries are bigger in the shade, or sometimes bigger in the sun; huckleberries are easier to pick with rakes, but should only be picked by hand.

Huckleberries are really blueberries … no! nothing like blueberries.  Huckleberries are worth risking your life for — or one good reason for living …

The Huckleberry BookPretty much describes people’s thoughts about huckleberries!  By the way, this excerpt is the beginning paragraph in one of the most popular huckleberry book:  The Huckleberry Book by ‘Asta Bowen.

We had the privileged of meeting ‘Asta a few summers ago when she came through north central Idaho to continue her new research for an updated version of The Huckleberry Book.   Interesting lady — a school teacher from Montana who has written books on the wolves as well as huckleberries.

The Huckleberry Book is not just your typical book about huckleberries!  ‘Asta entertains us with wonderful stories about huckleberries, huckleberry hunting and picking, huckleberries and bears, and a listing of home style recipes.

I’d like to share one of her unique huckleberry cake recipes from the book (page 84):

Carrie's Cake


  • 4 c. huckleberries
  • 3 oz. pkg. Jello
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 c. miniature marshmallows
  • 1 pkg. yellow cake mix


  1. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.
  2. Spread berries on bottom of pan.
  3. Sprinkle with sugar and Jello.
  4. Top with the marshmallows.
  5. Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Spread batter over berries.
  6. Bake in 350 degree over 50-55 minutes.
  7. Cool 5 minutes and then turn upside down onto platter.
  8. Serve with whipped cream or Cool Whip
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Sounds yummy!!  If you are using frozen huckleberries, you  might want to either add thickener to the berries to make sure it is not too runny!

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