With the dismal huckleberry crop last year, many pickers are finding the 2016 crop to be much more promising.
Reports of huckleberry sightings (and picking) are coming in from all over the Montana, Idaho and Wyoming Rocky Mountain Region.
Here is a handful of these reports from the folks out picking this summer:
A wetter spring appears to have boosted this year’s huckleberry crop, according to local buyers who are breathing a sigh of relief after last year’s dismal, drought-stricken harvest.
“Last year was a disaster,” said Peggy Atchley, an employee at Eva Gates Homemade Preserves in Bigfork. “We’ve gotten a couple good-sized batches of berries. … I think we’ll have a pretty good late season as long as we get a day or two of moisture.”
The family-owned jam and preserve company recently has been getting most of its berries from the Libby area, she added, as the berry-producing areas around the Flathead started ripening earlier than usual and are already beginning to transition to the middle elevations, where the popular fruit still is green.
Last year’s shortage predictably drove up the prices paid by huckleberry processors, but while the per-pound cost for the raw ingredient has dropped this summer, Atchley said they’re still paying “premium prices.”
One thing that does seem apparent is the relationship between the size of the plant and its berries to the amount of moisture available in a given environment. Foragers in the Bozeman area may find success seeking patches of huckleberries in drainages or along mountain streams. If you find plants with green berries, head downhill, otherwise keep working uphill until you find a patch with ripe berries.
While huckleberries are prized by foragers, they are also an important food source for other animals. Black and grizzly bears feed voraciously on huckleberries during the late summer and foragers would be wise to carry bear spray while collecting.
“Nobody would admit to themselves or to anyone else that they are risking life and limb to pick huckleberries, but bear encounters are a genuine risk,” Pony-based author Thomas Elpel wrote in “Foraging the Mountain West.”
For those foragers willing to brave bears, steep mountain slopes and purple fingers, the rewards are many. From huckleberry pancakes to huckleberry pie, the fruit packs a punch of local flavor.
And our last report:
Maybe I don’t totally live off the land, but we do eat a lot of what nature has to offer. … Last week while backpacking we really got into the huckleberries and thimbleberries. There is a good crop this year. I’d advise you to get out and pick some.
While backpacking or camping I love to put them in my oatmeal in the morning. They add a new dimension to your breakfast. The problem is, the first 20 minutes I eat all that I pick! Last week I had a buddy (Fredy Riehl) out from New Jersey and he said forget the saving and ate all of them as fast as he could pick them.
Another thing that I like to do is to add them to my water bottle. Over the course of a backpacking trip plain ole water can get pretty bland as the only drink for three meals, so adding berries to your water bottle turns it into a flavored drink.