Interview with Dr. Barney, Part 2

Posted April 15, 2015 By sandy

A week or so ago, we published a written copy of Dr. Barney’s interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter.

Here is the second part of the interview:Interview with Dr. Barney

3. What ecological/human threats face the wild berries?

Although the size and number of colonies are decreasing, none of the western Vaccinium species are threatened or endangered. Most are quite robust throughout their ranges, although some species are far more common than others.

4. Your report on growing the western huckleberry explains how people can plant the bushes by seed or transplant. My horticulture know-how is likely limited here, but how is that different than domesticating the plant?

Domestication involves developing improved varieties and production methods that allow the crops to be grown reliably and easily in commercial and noncommercial settings. Domestication also means having a consistent and predictable product. You may have a favorite apple or peach variety, for example. You know what a ‘Golden Delicious’ apple looks and tastes like. You know what to expect. We were trying to develop the same predictability and quality level with huckleberries.

5. Who are the commercial pickers? Are they people who primarily make their living off of foraged forest products?

Commercial pickers range from individuals, families, and small groups that pick small quantities of berries and sell them alongside the road to large, professional crews hired by brokers or processors. Some of the commercial crews represent immigrant labor, but not all. Picking usually commences in early July and runs until the berries are frosted off in September. The major period is mid-July through late August. Obviously, this is a part-time job and is often used to supplement income from other seasonal jobs, such as work at a ski resort.

6. Are there any estimates as to how much money the annual harvest amounts to? Are there maps that show the largest harvest regions within each state? (I grew up spending summers in Montana, so I remember all the buzz around huckleberry jam, ice cream, pies. The berries were a tourist magnet).

The berries remain a tourist magnet and there are myriad huckleberry products available – culinary, cosmetic, ornamental, and nutraceutical. I have been away from the industry for five years, however, and no longer have current economic figures. You might consult with an economist at one to the regional universities for better information.

7. You mentioned in your email that some of the berries likely go to export. Can you expand on who the primary buyers are for huckleberries?

My information regarding exports is apocryphal, so I will not elaborate. My understanding is that there was a demand for freeze-dried huckleberries for Pacific Rim markets, but I have no documentation to support that assertion.

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Do Huckleberry Rakes Kill or Damage Plants?

Posted April 6, 2015 By sandy

Frequently, we receive inquires as to the safety of using rakes to pick huckleberries.  Over the years, we have responded to comments with the facts about the issue.

Last week, we received the following comment from Valerie:

“How rude! When you use the rake you are not telling rakers they are killing the bush.”

Thank you, Valerie, for bringing up a common misconception (even an “urban myth”) about huckleberry picking rakes. It ALWAYS comes from those who’ve never used them, or even seen theA social history of wild huckleberry harvesting in the Pacific Northwestm used.

The blueberry industry has been using rakes to pick commercial berries for several decades, maybe even a century.

Native Americans traditionally harvested huckleberries using rakes carved from wood, or made from the backbone of a salmon or steelhead together with the rib cage on one side.

No one would be using rakes if they even damaged the plants, much less killed them.
The teeth on a huckleberry raking tools are typically set with a 3/16 inch gap. This allows the tiny twigs (huckleberries only grow on the current years growth) to pass through unharmed, but will pop off all but the tiniest berries.

While it is theoretically possible to damage a huckleberry plant with a rake, if misused (after all, you can easily kill someone with a screwdriver, which is not the intended use), doing so would be counter productive. The aggressiveness required to damage a bush would put so much trash into your bucket, that the berries would not be worth trying to pick out of the mess.

You will get a few more leaves with a rake that by hand picking. This is because the leaves huckleberry picking rakeare nearing their traditional leaf fall which occurs every autumn, and using a rake is less selective than hand picking (and bumps the twiglets a bit more). But you get leaves, even with handpicking… and for the same reason.

I guess that when people hear the term “rake” it SOUNDS like a tool that you would SCRAPE against the branches. However, this is far from the case. Berry picking tools are designed to minimize contact with the plant itself, while capturing as many berries as possible.

Which is why even the most environmentally conscious huckleberry lover, probably owns a rake or two… you can easily pick 3x as many berries with the same investment of time and gas into the woods. And if the berries are thick, you can get 10X the berries in the same amount of effort.

See more at the following websites:

And thanks, Valerie, for your comment! We appreciate the opportunity to clear up this common misconception.

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Interview with Dr. Barney

Posted March 31, 2015 By sandy

Although Dr. Barney is not currently propagating and growing huckleberries, he is still considered the expert on the subject and giving interviews to interested parties.

Dr. Barney rake demo,We are fortunate to have a written copy of his interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter:

1. Where does domestication of the berries stand now? Is there research close to succeeding?

Unfortunately, I believe little university or other government research is presently being conducted on domestication of western huckleberries and bilberries. Research funding is limited, and efforts are being directed toward well-established crops, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Much knowledge remains to be discovered and developed before most western Vaccinium crops can be grown successfully in commercial settings.

It is important to identify the different crops. I use the term “western huckleberries and bilberries,” which includes about eight species in the genus Vaccinium. All are edible, and several have outstanding culinary quality. The seeds are usually small to very small. The common names “huckleberry,” “bilberry,” and “whortleberry” are interchangeable and many species are known by all of these names and more. Eastern huckleberries are members of genus Gaylusaccia and, like Vaccinium, members of family Ericaceae. Unlike western Vaccinium species, eastern huckleberries have ten large, hard seeds and the berry flavor and culinary quality leave much to be desired. When it came time to domesticate a blue American fruit, farmers and breeders chose highbush and lowbush blueberries.

The domestication efforts that I was involved with included work on Vaccinium species … have the greatest immediate potential as culinary crops. Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leaf huckleberry) has good potential as a nutraceutical crop due to its high antioxidant properties. I did not work much with Vaccinium ovatum (shot or blackwinter huckleberry) which grows along the Pacific coast and has been cultivated to a small extent, primarily for ornamental foliage used by florists.

We were able to develop and demonstrate several production systems, and know how to grow the berries. I grew many thousands of plants in Idaho and colleagues also grew the plants successfully in northwestern Montana and western Oregon. The greatest limiting factor is the lack of improved varieties that have been developed to provide good site adaptability, acceptable growth and plant habit, and commercially-acceptable fruit in sustainable yields.

My breeding program at the University of Idaho produced some advanced selections. However, we were still at least one and probably two generations from releasing a cultivated variety when the research station that I was at closed due to budget cuts and I left the University. That program was not picked up by anyone else. Some of the selections are still being tested by growers in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. I intend to resume the Vaccinium breeding program upon my retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2015. That program will take place in Southcentral Alaska.

2. Can you explain the incentives to domesticate the berries? Is it primarily commercial manufacturers pushing the research? What are the economic and ecological incentives and/or potential drawbacks to domesticating the berry?

Western huckleberries and bilberries have been harvested for food for at least centuries and likely millennia. They were vitally important both for food and trade for several Native American and First Peoples nations in western North America. When European colonists arrived they quickly adopted the crops and by the early 1900s were shipping large quantities of wildcrafted (plants harvested from the wild) berries to eastern markets. Picking the berries is very labor intensive and usually takes place in remote locations. The fruits are borne individually on the bushes, rather than in large cluster like domestic blueberries, and mechanical harvesters are not often feasible. Therefore, the amount of berries one person can pick per day is low. The commercial market peaked in the 1930s, and largely died during World War II when labor became scarce. The market began to re-emerge in the 1980s as general and ecotourism increased in the Northwest and western Canada.

Prior to the early 1900s, forest fires were not controlled and the forests were very different than they are now. Tree density was lower and understory shrubs much more abundant. With the advent of modern fire-fighting methods, fires were largely removed from the landscape. Native Americans had long kept highly productive berry harvest areas productive using controlled fires. That practice was outlawed. By the end of the 20th century, tree density had greatly increased while productive berry acreage shrank dramatically as the trees reclaimed the landscape and shaded out the berry crops.

While none of the berry species is threatened or endangered, colonies suitable for commercial harvest have greatly decreased in size and number due to forest encroachment and development of forest lands. With increased demand for the fruit for commercial culinary and nutraceutical purposes, commercial harvests have become increasingly aggressive and have reduced the availability of fruit for cultural, recreational, and subsistence pickers. In a related way, commercial harvests have resulted in conflicts with some Northwestern Native American groups, for whom huckleberries are an important part of their culture.

Wild huckleberry harvests are highly variable. During some years, the yields are very high and during other years very low. On average, you can expect a good harvest every 3 to 7 years. Such unpredictability makes operating a commercial enterprise challenging and encourages overharvest whenever the opportunity presents itself. The unpredictability also influences prices greatly, impacting income for pickers, brokers, and processors.

My program was intended to provide reliable crops of commercially sustainable quantities of fruit grown in cultivation or in managed forest stands (like highbush and lowbush blueberries, respectively) and to leave the wild forest huckleberry colonies for noncommercial harvests.

More of the interview next post!

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Huckleberry Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe

Posted March 17, 2015 By sandy

Looking for a new unique huckleberry dish to create NOW, before huckleberry season?

Our huckleberry vinegar, featured on our Tastes of Idaho website, has many delicious purposes, other than use in salads, in cooking your favorite sweet and sour dish.

Check out the Wildbeary recipe below:

Huckleberry Sweet & Sour Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 C Wildbeary Huckleberry Vinegar
  • 1/8 C cider vinegar
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 T Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste: (recommended is ½ tsp of each)

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and use.
http://wildhuckleberry.com/2015/03/17/huckleberry-sweet-and-sour-sauce-recipe/
WBP HB vinegar

You can find Wildbeary Huckleberry Vinegar on our Tastes of Idaho website.

Enjoy your huckleberry sweet and sour sauce!

 

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The Huckleberry Basket

Posted March 4, 2015 By sandy

Recently, we made a new ‘huckleberry lover’ friend:  The Huckleberry Basket!

John contacted me to ask if he could use some of our huckleberry photos for his new website.  Of course, a conversation ensued and, once again, I discovered that huckleberry lovers are some of the nicest people!

So, I have dedicated this post to share some of the wonderful information he has on his website:

Huckleberry Basket websitePicking and Cleaning Huckleberries

… The most basic suggesting for cleaning is pouring the berries out on a cookie sheet, and then pick out the berries by hand. This is a very simple process, however it’s a bit time consuming, and asking friends or family for help will shorten your yield!



Another option is to simply dunk the berries into a bucket filled with water. The berries will sink to the bottom and most of the bugs, stems and leaves will float up to the top. This is a great way to clean out the berries, it’s less time consuming, and does a pretty good job at getting them clean. My only complaint about this is it can waterlog the berries, and if you toss them right into the freezer you will end up with clumps of berries when it comes time to pulling some out.



My favorite is something that requires a bit of ingenuity. This process is almost like sluicing for gold. You take berries and slide them down an incline, and the basic idea is that the berries will roll down the incline and sticks, stems, and leaves will be left behind….

John suggests some good methods for cleaning berries.

How do you clean your berries?  If you use a different method, please share it with us!

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Huckleberries in the Pacific Northwest

Posted February 18, 2015 By sandy

Recently a reader asked if I could post an article about huckleberries in northern Washington.  I did some searching and found the following article by Dea on her Live.Eat.Travel blog and found some information on huckleberries in the Pacific Northwest.

Here are some excerpt from the article (NOTE:  Her article is over 4 years old, but picking huckleberries does not change!)

How to pick Huckleberries in the Pacific Northwest

Vaccinium Parvifolium fruit

Vaccinium Parvifolium

When and Where:

The berries are ripe somewhere between late August and late September based on the year. Ask your local gardener if this was a late year or an early year for all plants. That should give you a good indication of what is happening with the berries. You will need find your own patch. Click here for the Washington Trails Association’s hints to what to look for and a short list of hikes with huckleberries on them…

What to bring:

  • A hands free container
  • A larger container to fill up as the smaller container gets full. A 5 gallon bucket a good standby.
  • Long pants – no matter how warm it is. You will need the protection from the brush.
  • Sturdy shoes and thick socks
  • Non-Deet bug spray. There is nothing like a fly that won’t leave you alone that can ruin sitting in a patch of huge huckleberries on a beautiful day. If you use deet, expect to eat it later in your berries.
  • Hat – sunglasses make seeing the berries harder, so a hat is a good way to keep the sun out of your eyes.
  • Sunscreen – last time I went, I brought it but didn’t use it. I now have a farmers burn/tan.
  • Water – by the gallon. You will want to wash off your hands when you are done and you will need a lot of water to get this done efficiently. It is also good for drinking.
  • Toilet paper, just in case…
  • Gallon freezer bags – to help store the berries after you are done. This will also help you estimate how much you have picked.
  • Multiple layers of tops – you never know if it is going to be sweltering hot in the sun or cold from the clouds and the breeze. It is also a good idea to bring something in case of rain.
  • Food – lunch and snacks for the way down.
  • And finally, a sense of adventure and a desire to get some yummy berries.

    Vaccinium deliciosum with fruit

    Vaccinium deliciosum

 


Identifying the Berries:

There are actually over 5 berries commonly named Huckleberries.  It is also important to distinguish between Mountain Huckleberries and Red Huckleberries. Red Huckleberries are the type that you will see in low level forests and in backyards. These are an entirely different species of plant and taste very different…

Vaccinium Membranaceum with black fruit

Vaccinium Membranaceum

From my experience, most Mountain Huckleberries in the Washington mountains fall into three basic categories: blue, black with a reddish hue to them and then just plain black…

Typically, my least favorite kind are the blue ones. They taste more like blueberries and are more bland…

Happy picking (in the late summer) to huckleberry lovers near the coastal Pacific Northwest!
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Huckleberries in North Idaho

Posted February 5, 2015 By sandy

Looking for huckleberries in north Idaho?

Coeur d Alene is a famous resort town, known for its fine dining, beautiful lake Coeur d Alene and it’s beaches, and HUCKLEBERRIES!

 

But, of course, you won’t find any huckleberries to pick this time of the year!  But, the Guide to North Idaho has a listing of wonderful places to experience huckleberries!

 

If you’re not inclined to compete with the bears and birds for Idaho’s official state fruit, there are multiple other ways to enjoy huckleberries:

  • Baskin Robbins in Coeur d’Alene features dozens of toppings including fresh huckleberries.
  • Paul Bunyon Burgers has been a local favorite since 1952. What do the locals love about Paul Bunyon in the summertime? Huckleberry milkshakes!
  • Sargent’s on Government Way in Hayden not only serves up the best steaks in town, but also the best huckleberry pie!
  • Huckleberry topped salads and cheesecake are a must try at 315 Martinis, Tapas and Dinner at the Greenbriar Inn.

Huckleberries are the star each August when the Huckleberry / Heritage Festival takes place in Wallace the 3rd weekend. Besides a bake-off and Huckleberry pancake breakfast, vendors have huckleberry goods along with other arts and crafts. There’s also live music, a fun run, downtown bicycle race and a bicycle hillclimb to the top of Dobson Pass.

If you are inclined to visit Coeur d Alene to pick huckleberries …

By mid-June, berries on south facing lower slopes are ripe. Good picking is as late as October on north slopes. Abundant huckleberry picking spots are available throughout North Idaho. Best picking is between late July and early August. Visit parksandrecreation.idaho.gov or contact the Priest Lake Ranger District, (208)443-2512  www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/priestlake

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Identifying Wild Huckleberries

Posted January 23, 2015 By sandy

Winter is a rough time of the year for huckleberry lovers …. way too early to check the bushes; berries from the summer are gone or mostly gone; and a long wait till the new crop of berries are ready, again, for picking.

So, for some informative reading on the subject, here is an article I found on EHow:

Identifying Wild Huckleberries

How to Identify Wild Huckleberries

By Tarah Damask

 Though the name “huckleberry” applies to plant species within different genera, when identifying wild huckleberries, look for those belonging to Vaccinium species like V. membranaceum, according to Purdue University Agriculture. Known by many names, including thinleaf huckleberry and big huckleberry, this perennial shrub produces edible berries sometimes sold at local farmers markets, as these wild berries are not commercially produced. Pay special attention to color when identifying wild huckleberries to differentiate them from other visually similar berry plants.

Instructions

1. Look for a deciduous shrub with an semi-erect habit. Examine foliage and twigs that take on a dense appearance with a green leaf display. Feel the twigs and consider their color, as young twigs display a smooth, yellow-green hue while older wild huckleberry plants exhibit gray bark that crumbles from the branch, according to the Virginia Tech Forest Department of Resources and Environmental Conservation.

2. Turn to the berries that ripen during the end of summer to distinguish this shrub from other berry shrubs. Taste the berries, provided you are sure they are clean and free of chemical treatments, such as herbicides. Wild huckleberries are prized for their delicious flavor. Identify huckleberries by comparing them to blueberries and red huckleberries, which look similar, though wild huckleberries have a black color, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Measure the berry’s diameter, which reaches 1/2 inch.

Read the rest of the story

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Huckleberry Bundt Cake with Meringue Frosting

Posted January 7, 2015 By sandy

I hope you had a wonderful huckleberry holiday season!

Personally, we sent huckleberry products and gift baskets from our Tastes of Idaho site to over 27 states — and even one basket to Ireland!!

By the way, we are currently running a After the Holiday sale on the site.  Check it out here to receive 35% off your order!!

In the meantime, check out the following Huckleberry Bundt Cake recipe from the Seattle Flour Child website:

Huckleberry Bundt Cake with Meringue Frosting

Huckleberry Bundt Cake with Meringue  Frosting

Ingredients

  • CAKE
  • 3 C All Purpose Flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 – 2/3 C sugar
  • 3/4 C unsalted butter – at room temp
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 T orange zest
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 3/4 C buttermilk
  • 2 C frozen huckleberries (it’s important they are frozen, or they will bleed all over the cake)
  • MERINGUE FROSTING
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/3 C water, minus 1 T
  • 1 T orange juice
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 pinch cream of tartar
  • 1/2 t vanilla

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350. Use shortening and flour to ready your bundt pan or spray generously. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light. Add eggs one at a time, and then add orange zest, vanilla and almond. Mix thoroughly and add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Fold in berries, pour into pan and bake ~50 minutes until top springs back easily. Cool at least 8 – 10 minutes and then turn out onto a plate or rack.
  2. FROSTING: Begin heating sugar and water /juice in a small saucepan. Add a candy thermometer to the pan. Continue to boil as you froth two egg whites in the base of a standing mixer. Add cream of tartar when egg whites are frothy, stop beating. When sugar reaches about 225 degrees, begin whipping the egg whites on high until peaks form. When sugar mixture reaches 240 or soft ball stage, remove from heat and pour in a steady stream into whites, with mixer running on low. Beat for 7 full minutes until fluffy and glossy – and add half teaspoon vanilla.
http://wildhuckleberry.com/2015/01/07/huckleberry-bundt-cake-with-meringue-frosting/

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Huckleberry Recipes and Facts

Posted December 10, 2014 By sandy

We have been incredibly busy!  With all the orders for huckleberry products we are filling from our Tastes of Idaho website, I really didn’t have time to come up with a tantalizing post!  Instead, I did a quick web search on huckleberries and discovered a few interesting sites and information.

First, I found a list of 101 recipes using huckleberries!!  Yes, 101!!

If you are adventurous, here is the link: Huckleberries on Yahoo.

Huckleberry Recipes and Facts

Huckleberry patches in northern Idaho mountains

Another article I found interesting is from Wise Geek:  What are Huckleberries

Huckleberry is the name for a number of different shrubs in the Ericaceae family, which also includes blueberries and cranberries. Plants with this name come primarily from two genera: Gaylussacia and Vaccinium. The berries are small and round, with a similar appearance to blueberries, though their color may range instead from deep crimson to eggplant purple. The taste is also often compared to that of blueberries, although it is distinct.

The different types of huckleberries include the black, box, dwarf, and thinleaf. Red ones grow primarily in the western part of North America, preferring slightly acidic soils in the coastal regions. The black and dwarf plants grow mostly in the mid- and eastern part of the continent, while the woolly and Confederate huckleberry grow in the southern US. These plants haven’t been domesticated, and different varieties grow wild throughout North America.

The berries ripen in mid- to late summer, often reaching their peak in August, although this can depend of the variety, location, and growing conditions. Very few are available in grocery stores; the best place to look for them is either in the wild or at local farmer’s markets. Since they are not grown commercially, they are often more expensive than other berries.

It is generally recommended that people avoid picking the berries in early evening or early morning hours, especially in relatively remote areas. They are a favorite food of bears, including brown and black bears, and grizzlies. In fact, bears are famous for quickly eating huckleberries, since the high sugar helps them store fat for long and lean winters.

The fruit can be used much like blueberries, and they make good jams, pies, cobblers or preserves. It may also be possible to buy jam or syrup and occasionally fresh berries from a variety of Internet sites.

There are a few reasons why this species of berry has not adapted well to commercial farming. The plants take a number of years to grow to maturity and produce fruit, and they also prefer acidic soils. Another reason farmers tend not to bother with them is because they have to be handpicked. Machines that pick blueberries don’t work well with huckleberries, so harvesting them is more labor intensive. Research is being done to find ways to make the berry more easily cultivated.

The relative rarity and difficulty in obtaining huckleberries translates to significant cost. They are usually sold in frozen packages. It is much harder to find fresh ones, and their availability is often limited to areas in which they flourish in the wild.

 

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