Tabitha Graves research on huckleberries in West Glacier has reveals some interesting facts:

Of Bears and Berries

Glacier Park researcher hopeful that huckleberry-monitoring project will help predict bear activity

WEST GLACIER – For Tabitha Graves, the ability to presage a bumper crop of More on Tabitha Graves, Huckleberries and Bearshuckleberries – or, conversely, a dearth of the delicious fruit – carries far greater implications than merely filling up jam jars or homing in on a secret picking patch.

Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Glacier National Park, is in the second year of a pilot program aimed at tracking the timing and productivity of huckleberry patches, which this sultry summer are bearing little fruit at lower elevations.

She won’t hazard a guess about the overall upshot of this season’s crop, though of the five monitoring sites she’s able to compare to last year’s data, only one is on par with the previous summer, which sprayed a veritable star-scape of the dark-red berries throughout the forests that hug the Continental Divide.

Wild huckleberries grow in droves on both sides of the Continental Divide, their tart flavor sought out by humans and grizzly bears alike. And while visitors to Glacier can pick one quart of huckleberries per person per day for personal consumption only (Waterton Lakes National Park only allows hand-to-mouth picking) grizzlies and black bears eat pounds of them in a single sitting.

Last summer was a good year to be a berry-eating bear, particularly as research has shown that 15 percent of a bear’s diet is made up of huckleberries, a fun fact gleaned from a not-so-fun research study – scat analysis.

The berries provide essential nutrients for bears, and if you’ve ever hiked trails lined with huckleberry bushes in Glacier Park, you have probably stepped over piles of berry-loaded bear scat…

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The North Powder Huckleberry Festival committee is laying the plans for another fun day as they prepare for their ninth annual event, Saturday, July 25. The event is held in the heart of North Powder, located between Baker City and La Grande, (exit #285 from Interstate 84), in beautiful northeast Oregon.

Honoring the tasty wild berry that grows in the nearby mountains, the festival is a lively celebration of pioneer heritage and community spirit. Festival activities begin with the Subway Duathlon and Fun Run/Walk, with registration at 7 a.m. and starting at 8 a.m.

The day’s activities include a parade at 11 a.m., entertainment, craft and food vendors, games, a Huckleberry Dessert contest, a fire station barbecue, free huckleberry sundae, puppet show, mud volleyball tournament and street dance. Ninth Annual North Powder Huckleberry Festival

The Powder Valley All-School & Community Reunion Breakfast takes place from 7 to 10 a.m., on the school grounds and welcomes visitors and residents, along with former students.

The Huckleberry Hot-Rod Show-n-Shine is held adjacent to the festival and invites cars from throughout the northwest to participate.

The huckleberry dessert contest organizers anticipate a good berry crop and delicious entries. Contact Janet, janetd@eoni.com or 541.898.2620 for entry information.

The committee welcomes new vendors each year, to add to the regulars and those who have come for several years. To request a vendor application form or seek additional information, please contact Bev Bigler, Vendor Coordinator, 541.898.2320 or blbig@eoni.com.

Come join in the fun and plan to stay a few days to explore all northeast Oregon has to share. www.visiteasternoregon.com

* * *
Below is a list contacts for the festival activities:

Subway Duathlon Bike/Run and 5K, 10K & Mile Run/Walk; Erin, 541.910.0008 or ethompson_02@hotmail.com
Huckleberry Hillbilly Festival Parade; Suzie, 541.898.3000 or dehaas.suzie@gmail.com
Huckleberry Dessert Contest & Auction; Janet, 541.898.2620 or janetd@eoni.com
Mud Volleyball Tournament; Jeff, 541.786.1806 or jgrendeheatingandair@yahoo.com
Huckleberry Hot-Rod Show-n-Shine; Dawn, 541.786.2086 or huckleberrynpo@gmail.com
General event information; Danyell, 541.519.2462 or danyellw02@gmail.com

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Huckleberry Forecast from Montana

Posted June 24, 2015 By sandy

After the bumper crop of huckleberries last season, folk are wondering about this year’s huckleberry forecast.

Here is one researcher’s perspective on the Glacier National Park huckleberries:

WEST GLACIER – Tabitha Graves can’t say this will be a bad year for huckleberries, even Huckleberry forecast from Montana though four of the five sites she is monitoring in the West Glacier area show berry production is down 75 percent to 95 percent from last year.

But the fifth is showing the same number of berries as 2014, when a bumper crop was Huckleberry forecast in Montanaproduced after a wet, cool spring.

And Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, doesn’t yet know what the huckleberry crop at higher elevations – where bushes are just popping out from under snow – will be like this summer.

“It could still be a great year if the berries at the higher elevations grow,” Graves says….

The five sites being monitored in the area are among a dozen in the park. Here, the elevation is close to 3,200 feet, but Graves also has sites as high as approximately 6,500 feet – one near Sperry Chalet, where mountain peaks block sunlight for much of the day, and another on (how could she not) Huckleberry Mountain, which is in the open and exposed to much sunlight.

“Some years, the crop will be good in one place and bad in others,” Graves says. Her goal is to figure out why…

To aid the research, Graves has set up remote cameras at all 12 sites that snap pictures, from a distance of 18 inches, of huckleberry bushes four to five times a day throughout the growing season.

She can see them when they’re budding, see them when they’re flowering, see them at the “saucer” stage (so called because “they look like flying saucers,” Graves explains), see them when they resemble tulips, see them when the berries are green, see them when they’re ripe…

The pilot project began last year during the bumper crop, which is why Graves knows that this year, one of her sites has just 5 percent of the berries that were produced last year, three more have just 25 percent, and one is humming along at last year’s rate.

READ FULL STORY

At this point, it all remains to be seen what happens here and elsewhere with the huckleberry crop.

If anyone has any further information, please share with us.

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History of Huckleberries

Posted June 10, 2015 By sandy

If you do your research, you can find references to the huckleberry back as far as the 17th century.

In the article, Huckleberries – History of Huckleberries, I found the following information: 

Evidence has been found the the huckleberry actually got its name from a simple mistake. Early American colonist, upon encountering the native American berry, misidentified it as the European blueberry known as the “hurtleberry,” by which name it was called until around 1670 it was corrupted to become know as the “huckleberry.”

Lewis and Clark encountered huckleberries and talked about them in their journals:

In the Journals of Lewis and Clark, they wrote of the tribes west of the Rocky Mountains using dried berries extensively in 1806 and 1806. Captain Meriwether Lewis on reaching the Shoshone Tribe (also known as the Snake Nation, occupied areas both east and west of the Rocky Mountains) and the Great Divide, 15 August 1805:

“This morning I arose very early and as hungry as a wolf. I had eaten nothing yesterday except one scant meal of the flour and berries, except the dried cakes of berries, which did not appear to satisfy my appetite as they appeared to do those of my Indian friends. I found on inquire of McNeal that we had only about two pounds of flour remaining. This I directed him to divide into two equal parts and to cook the one half this morning in a kind of pudding with the berries as he had done yesterday, and reserve the balance for the evening. On this new-fashioned pudding four of us breakfasted, giving a pretty good allowance also to the chief, who declared it the best thing he had tasted for a long time. . .”

Native Americans were very familiar with the huckleberry:

Northwest tribes made special combs of wood or salmon backbones to strip huckleberries off the bushes. They dried the berries in the sun or smoked them and then mashed them into cakes and wrapped these in leaves or bark for storage.

Huckleberries became part of the culture in the early 1900s:

Between 1900 to 1925 families took working vacations where they traveled into the mountains to pick huckleberry (known as hucks) for the winter. During the 1930s through the 1940s, large camps were set in northern Montana where the fire of 1910 had burned. NOTE: Forest fires can enhance huckleberry habitat by allowing more light onto the forest floor. Also, fires release more nutrients into the soil, producing ashy soils upon which huckleberries thrive. The picking was so great that much of western Montana’s population converged on this area and set up huckleberry camps. The Native Americans on one side of the road, with as many as five hundred tipi lodges, and on the other side of the road would be the encampments of other Montanans. The camps might last a few days, a week, or as much as two months, depending on the crop and the inclinations of the family. It was said the big huckleberry camps had a boomtown atmosphere, much like the gold mining towns of the West. Those years produced boxcar-loads of huckleberries.

Huckleberry outings not only provided settlers with easily available nutritious, but also offered young people a legitimate courting opportunity. Moreover, huckleberry gathering provided a unique opportunity for white settlers to interact with local tribes.

The following is from Montana Historical Society interview transcript with Edna G. Cox McCann on an early settler, Edna McCann of Trout Creek, Montanta:

“And then huckleberry season we always would put in, well, we’d make a kind of picnic out of it. We’d take three or four days, get enough huckleberries for winter and make it kind of a picnic out of it too . . . We’d go to Silver Butte, that was a good place for huckleberries then or go up Trout Creek, either place. You know, the Indians that’d come down from the (Flathead) Reservation, there’d be a whole big bunch of them’d come at a time and camp for a week. Up on silver butte picking huckleberries. I always talked to ’em. Always did and i always got along good with them. Always got along good – some of them I would even recognize when they’d come back the next year . . . They had their favorite spots and they camped and not one every bothered anyone else, but the mountains were full of them . . . and that’s something you never see anymore. I don’t know if they even come down after huckleberries anymore. I never see ’em.”History of Huckleberries

 

If you are interested in more information on the history of huckleberries, you might want to check out this resource:  http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/22152

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Huckleberry Cobbler

Posted June 4, 2015 By sandy

Found this wonderful huckleberry cobbler recipe in the Bastrop Daily Enterprise in Louisiana!

Huckleberry Cobbler

Huckleberry Cobbler

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cups huckleberries
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • ½ to 1 stick butter
  • (Use your own pastry recipe or buy crust already prepared.)

Instructions

  1. Roll pastry large enough to cover the bottom of a 9x13x3 inch baking dish. Put a solid piece of pastry over the bottom of the dish and bake at 375 degrees until slightly brown and dry.
  2. Roll out another 1/3 of the pastry and cut into strips and bake strips on a pastry sheet until brown and crisp. Roll out the last1/3 of pastry, cut into strips and set aside.
  3. Mix berries with 1 cup sugar, water and butter in saucepan and cook until tender.
  4. Mix flour and the remaining ½ cup sugar and add to fruit mixture. Stir over medium heat until thickened.
  5. Pour half of fruit mixture over the bottom crust. Layer the browned strips over the fruit. Pour the remaining half of the fruit over the strips and lattice the unbaked strips on top of the pie. Dot with additional butter.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees until brown and bubbly.
http://wildhuckleberry.com/2015/06/04/huckleberry-cobbler/

Add some ice cream on top and ….. yummmm!

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Huckleberries in Northeastern Oregon

Posted May 28, 2015 By sandy

Another old, but wonderful article on huckleberries in Oregon.  Originally published in 2006, this Baker County article is just as pertinent today as it was 9 years ago.

Here are some of the highlights:

Best huckleberry picking in the world

… For many Baker County residents, picking huckleberries is a summer tradition as beloved as camping or fishing or cutting firewood.

Except you don’t need a license or a permit to go huckleberrying….

Huckleberries in northeastern Oregon

What you do need, though, is to know where the huckleberries grow. You could ask around, of course, but such queries probably would prove as fruitful as, say, trying to get a deer hunter to give up his favorite places to stalk big bucks.

Fortunately, huckleberries thrive in forests throughout Northeastern Oregon, and most of the best patches are on public land, so you don’t have to cajole permission from a property owner.

“There are nine species native to the region, and it has some of the best huckleberry picking in the world,” said Dr. Danny L. Barney….

… You’ll rarely find the berries at elevations below 4,000 feet, or above 6,500, Barney said.

Huckleberries ripen as early as mid-July, but in most years, and most berry patches, the first half of August is the prime picking period.

Although they’re related to blueberries, huckleberries are about half the size of the commercially raised berries you buy at the supermarket….

… What’s not usually necessary, though, is to trudge miles through the woods — huckleberries often grow in profusion right beside roads, Barney said.

He also suggests pickers look for places that were either burned or logged 10 to 15 years ago.

Huckleberries prosper in these openings in the forest canopy, where they bask in the sun for part of the day but still get some shade, Barney said.

The quality and quantity of the annual huckleberry harvest can vary greatly depending on weather and other factors.

Most years, though, you’ll find berry-laden bushes in the Eagle Creek country northeast of Baker City, and around Granite northwest of Sumpter….

… Although Barney said it’s relatively easy to grow huckleberries in your garden, he discourages people from digging up bushes out in the woods and then transplanting them.

“What looks like a bush in almost every case is actually just a branch,” he said. “When you plant them they almost always die.”

The roots are usually deep underground and difficult, if not impossible, to find, Barney said.

He recommends huckleberry aficionados either grow plants from seed, or buy bushes from a nursery….

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

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Huckleberry Jelly

Posted May 6, 2015 By sandy

Personally, I don’t understand jelly.  Why waste all that good fruit when you can just make jam — especially huckleberries which have very small seeds.

But for those of you who have left over fruit in your freezer and want to make jelly, here is a recipe I found online for huckleberry jelly:

Huckleberry JellyThis recipe makes approximately 3 pints or 6 half-pints. My great-grandson calls it mamaw jelly!

  • Using a large heavy pot, measure 4 cups huckleberry (or blueberry) juice and 1 package of Sure-Jel in pot. Bring to a rolling boil (a boil you can’t stir down) and then add 5 cups sugar all at once. Bring this to a rolling boil, and boil hard for 1 minute (time it please) stirring constantly.
  • Take from the heat and let set a few seconds, then skim off the foam from the top. Pour (or dip) the hot liquid into the hot jars. Wipe the tops of the jars with a damp cloth or damp paper towel, then add the hot lids and screw on the rings.
  • Since we live in the south, it is a good idea to put the jars of jelly into a pot, cover with water at least an inch and bring to a boil. Boil from 5 to 10 minutes. This sterilizes the jars, lids and jelly and you shouldn’t have any mold form on your hard-earned jelly.
  • You can cut down on the amount of foam if you add 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine to the mixture as it cooks. I don’t personally do this, but many people do.

The author of this article made me laugh when he/she added the following comments:

I enjoy picking blueberries, as it takes me back to the days when we used to go into the woods to pick huckleberries. When we happened upon a wild blueberry bush, it was magic. The wild blueberries were so much bigger and easier to pick than the tiny huckleberries. We don’t go wild huckleberry picking anymore. I wonder if anybody does. The blueberries are so much easier to pick, and they aren’t in the woods.

But despite the funny comment above (obviously, they do not live in the Inland or Pacific Northwest where people we ‘kill’ for wild huckleberries!), the article also include another way to use huckleberries:

The wild huckleberries have a little different taste than blueberries. Mama used to boil huckleberries with sugar and drop little dumplings in the hot syrup. That was a mighty good dessert with good thick fresh cream on top. That was before the days of Cool-Whip. If you want a simple dessert, you can do the same thing with blueberries. I don’t have a recipe, you just have to guess at the amounts. That’s what my mother did.

Read the full story for the method of juicing the fruit.

Can’t wait for huckleberry season!!

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Huckleberries in the Portland Area

Posted April 30, 2015 By sandy

Upon searching the web for articles on huckleberries, I found this article that was first published in July 2009.

Although this article is nearly 6 years old, it gives some give tips on picking huckleberries in the Portland area:

How To…Hunt for HuckleberriesHuckleberries in Portland area

IF THERE’s ANYTHING WORTH LOOKING FORWARD TO about the end of a sublime Pacific Northwest summer, it’s a handful of huckleberries. During their peak season in August, the tangy, tart berries sweeten everything from milkshakes to mojitos. And the hide-and-seek game of finding them is a rite of passage for Portlanders, new and old. But Dr. Danny Barney, a professor of horticulture at the University of Idaho, says the fruit, which is nearly impossible to grow domestically, is becoming increasingly elusive. It’s not just because your neighbors are hoarding the loot. In 2008, rangers in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest issued nearly five times as many permits to commercial berry pickers—anyone harvesting more than three gallons—than they had just three years earlier. Thanks to this sudden influx of licensed huckleberry hunters, who earn up to $35 per gallon, hillsides can get picked clean soon after the permits get issued in mid-August. So if you want to find these precious fruits, you need to know what you’re doing. Dr. Barney offers the following advice for making the most of a berry outing.

MAKE A PLAN
Don’t expect locals around such huckleberry hot spots as Mount Adams’s Mowich Butte or Olallie Lake on Mount Hood to cough up any intel on where the berries are bountiful. Instead, stick with the Forest Service for solid advice. Ranger stations, like Mount Adams’s, will pinpoint reliable areas such as Little Huckleberry Mountain, Huckleberry Access Campground, and the Sawtooth Berry Fields, where commercial picking is limited.
Mt Adams Ranger District, 509-395-3400; Zigzag Ranger District, 503-622-3191

STUDY YOUR GAME
Huckleberries are purple, black, blue, or sometimes red in color, with smooth skin. They resemble blueberries in size and shape. The bushes, which grow to be about seven feet tall, thrive where sunshine is abundant. Comb through clear-cuts or remnants of old burns. Check your altimeter, too: the sweet spot for berries lies between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. The later it is in the season, the higher up you’ll have to go.

SAFEGUARD YOUR INVESTMENT
When jostled, huckleberries tend to bust open and spill their abundant juices. Avoid this trailside travesty by opting to place them in a plastic container with a lid, like a Nalgene bottle. If you want to freeze them, a plastic Ziploc bag will work fine. Just rinse the berries, and then, to avoid clumping, spread them to dry or dab them with a paper towel before tossing them into the icebox.

NOTE:  Dr. Barney is no longer with the University of Idaho, but is still considered the best expert on huckleberries!

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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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