Picking Wild Huckleberries Archive

Huckleberry Picking Tips

Posted August 12, 2016 By sandy

Everyone has their own huckleberry picking tips or techniques we use when picking berries, but I think we can all agree on the following:

There are many tips and tricks to the art of huckleberry picking, but only one rule: never, ever reveal the location of your personal huckleberry heaven.

The ‘tip’ above appeared an article on The Lewiston Tribune website.

Huckleberry Picking TipsHere are some of the tips that Ruthie Prasil listed in her article:

Juicy Little Secrets!

You’ll want to be up in the mountains where it’s cooler. Once you’re looking at a temperature in the low- to mid-70s, try turning off some Forest Service access roads. Parking along these and hiking up just a bit is usually good practice.

Bring small buckets and Ziploc baggies. Some of my saddest moments in life have been watching my full bucket of berries slowly tip over and tumble down the mountainside. Every now and then, transfer your berries to the Ziploc bag and snap that sucker shut.

You’ll want good shoes (closed toe, good for climbing) and long pants. It wouldn’t hurt to carry bear spray, but I say that because I’m always afraid of wolves or bears attacking out of nowhere.

Huckleberry plants or bushes look like this: Lots of green leaves with berries scattered throughout. They are nothing like raspberry bushes or strawberry plants, with big berries tightly packed together. Huckleberries are tiny and delicate. You’re lucky to get two or three on the same twig.

Berry colors vary, but you want the ones that are more blue/purple than pink. Leave the green and pink ones and grab them the next time you’re out, once they’ve ripened.

Huckleberries are soft and fragile. You know how with herbs and some fruits, you can hold onto one end of the plant and by pinching your thumb and pointer together, slide it down the plant while the herbs or berries slide off? This is not the case with huckleberries. If you try that, you will end up with a juicy, purple mess. They must be picked one by one, and carefully at that. Once you’re used to handling them and picking them, you’ll be able to hold your bucket over the plant while you quickly pluck them one by one and let them fall.

Great tips!Igloo Cooler

One thing, we, at the International Wild Huckleberry Association, would suggest is to use a small  ‘Igloo style’ cooler for storing your picked berries.  If you use ziplock bags during a hot day, you can cook your berries!

Check out more huckleberry picking tips.

 

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Huckleberry Picking Reports

Posted August 5, 2016 By sandy

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.Huckleberry Picking Reports

Here is a handful of these reports from the folks out picking this summer:

2016 huckleberry crop looking better than last year

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.”

Another report:

Favorite fruit ripening in hills around Bozeman

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:

Take advantage of good huckleberry crop

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.

 

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More on the Huckleberry Season in Montana

Posted July 25, 2016 By sandy

An update on the huckleberry crop from the Flathead Beacon

More on the Huckleberry Season in Montana

Huckleberries Bounce Back

… Last year’s crop was dismal, affected by record heat and drought conditions that lasted all summer and decimated crop yields.

It was a hot summer further marred by major wildfire activity, which also impacts the next season’s huckleberries. In Flathead National Forest, where people can pick up to 10 gallons of hucks before needing a commercial permit, the berries in areas untouched by last year’s wildfires look like they’re slightly ahead of schedule.

“In the fire areas from last year we’re not seeing any huckleberries,” Deb Mucklow, district ranger for the Spotted Bear Ranger District of the national forest, said. “Outside the fire areas, we are seeing some huckleberries, and they did start ripening a little bit earlier than some years. I would tell people they should come and expect to look, but people are picking, and people are finding some nice berries.”

In Glacier National Park, U.S. Geological Survey researcher Tabitha Graves said that, compared to last year, this year’s berry yield looks fuller, and the bushes at lower elevations produced berries earlier than average, though “average” is a bit of a hazy concept when huckleberries are concerned.

“The upper elevations (5,500 feet and above) certainly appear to be more along what we think of as average,” Graves said….

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Great Huckleberry Season in Montana

Posted July 20, 2016 By sandy

With the huckleberry in full swing in the northern Rocky region, folks are reporting a great huckleberry season in Montana!

In contrast to the 2015, where the meager crop was very poor due to the lack of snow pack and/or spring rains.  The few berries were on the bushes dried up on the branches during the very hot, dry picking season.

Here are some of the reports coming in this season from the Kalispell, Montana area:

Purple Finger Syndrome and Berry Good Liam

… When we were on our way to Huckleberry Heaven yesterday afternoon (pictured above and at 4,800 feet elevation and that’s all I’m telling), we passed a car on the road.  I noticed the driver gave a sort of “truck driver” wave.  That’s usually just one finger raised above the steering wheel.

Maybe this guy didn’t exactly have the pure truck-driver wave cuz Bill said his fingers were purple.

Now, I’m not so sure Bill saw his fingers that closely, but the observation could have been correct because this morning I’ve got the fingers to verify that there were, indeed, ripe, juicy huckleberries in them thar woods….

huckleberry season in Montana

Flathead Valley seeing great huckleberry season

… We’re right in the middle of huckleberry season. Thanks to low gas prices and the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, tourism has been fantastic for the Flathead Valley.

MTN News caught up with Huckleberry Haven owner Edward Springman too see how things are going. He says this has been a record year for his business and that the huckleberries have arrived early for this season, as well.

“It’s probably the second earliest. I’ve seen berries coming in early the last couple weeks or so; the nice mild spring with early, warm temperatures we had a month or so ago really helped out.”

He says the demands are great and the retailers are asking for more….

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Taming the Wild Huckleberry

Posted July 14, 2016 By sandy

If you did not already see the article, Malcolm, from the International Wild Huckleberry Association, was interviewed by for a recent article on the Atlas Obsura website:

Taming the Huckleberry

Will We Ever Tame The Wild Huckleberry?

…The Pacific Northwest takes huckleberries very, very seriously. Starting in July, droves of huckleberry hounds fall on state parks and roadside patches, eyes peeled and picking pails in tow. Soon after, any berries that aren’t scarfed on sight begin turning up in everything from snow cones to daquiris to barbecue sauce. States fight over them: there are several self-proclaimed huckleberry capitals, and Idaho has made it their official fruit. Individuals fight over them, too: in Montana in 2014, gunfire was exchanged over potential patch pilfering. “There’s probably a million huckleberry pickers in the Pacific Northwest,” says Malcolm Dell, founder of the Wild Huckleberry Association and a longtime picker himself. “It’s much bigger than people realize.” …

Native Americans cultivated wild huckleberry stands, encouraging their growth with controlled burns. When early European settlers tried to transplant the berries elsewhere, they failed miserably, for a very basic reason: they took the wrong part of the plant. Huckleberries spread via rhizomes, long, leggy strands that look like roots, but are really just underground stems. “They think they’re digging up a plant, but they’re just digging up a limb,” says Dell. “Replanting” one is like burying a stick—nothing happens….

For Dell, domestication would let huckleberry lovers have it both ways. “They’d have the commercial crops that are grown in the fields, and then there’d be the wild picking that still goes on for recreationalists,” he says. Barney’s research is publicly available, and his seeds are in several federal collections, waiting to be planted. Until then, their cousins will grow wild, awaiting their fate.

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If you are unsure about the difference between huckleberries and blueberries …. well, you probably have never eaten a huckleberry.

But, to help you out, here is a quote from WCAI: The Cape, the Coast and the Island website describing the differences:

The Difference Between Huckleberries and Blueberries

 

Huckleberries Growing Across the Cape Are Tasty and Often Overlooked

“Huckleberries tend to be more of a challenge to collect than blueberries,” Gadway says. “Blueberries tend to grow in clumps. But huckleberries grow as single berries, and you have to pick them one at a time. After you bring them home, you don’t have the big pile of berries.”…

“I think it’s more intense,” he says. “Once you’ve tasted a huckleberry, most people say they’re really good. The quality, how plump the berry is, will depend on how much rainfall we’ve had over the winter and spring. If it’s been dry, the huckleberries tend to have these little seeds that are more noticeable, whereas if it’s been wet, you don’t tend to notice as much.”

The two plants look a little different and so do the fruits.

“Blueberries are generally actually blue, and they can come in both a highbush form and a lower growing type of plant. Huckleberries are pretty universal in their bush: they’re maybe one-to-two feet off the ground, and the berries are smaller usually, and they’re really black in color.”

Huckleberries also aren’t domesticated. Plant breeders in Idaho—where the huckleberry is the state fruit—have apparently been trying for over a century with little success. Many foragers keep their spots to themselves—but Neil says when he sees huckleberry plants, he tries to spread the word.  “There are still a lot of areas in town that have huckleberries. I work out in the field at a lot different houses on the lower cape. I will see occasionally huckleberries growing out on people’s front lawns, and I ask them, if I’m there in say June or July, if they pick their huckleberries. And they kind of look at me with this quizzical face and say “huckle-what?” I ask if they mind if I pick some. They say “Sure!” I have to explain to them that they’re quite edible and quite tasty. So after I leave, maybe they’re trying them themselves because they’re growing in their front yard.

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Cleaning Huckleberries

Posted May 19, 2016 By sandy

If you have ever picked wild huckleberries, you know that cleaning them can be a challenge.

We have seen many different methods — some more complicated than others — for cleaning these fragile berries.

I found an article on the Wineforest Wild Foods website that describes some suggested cleaning methods:

Cleaning Wild Huckleberries

A bucket of berries harvested by combing and “beating the bushes” contains many leaves and even smaller unripe green berries. Some people submerge the berries in a bucket then skimming off the floating debris. This is the least desirable method. It water logs the berries and dilutes their flavor. Creating a ramp to roll the berries down is certainly the best way. There are numerous variations on the ramp technique. One nice way is to get a long strip of screen or hardware cloth with holes smaller than the size of your berries. Bend the screen into a long gutter-shape. Raise one end at least three feet higher than the other end which should end in a bucket. Pour the unclean berries down the ramp. Leaves will stick in the screen and the smaller green berries should fall through the screen as they roll downhill.

Another easy ramp is just a pair of boards, in a “V” shape, or an old gutter. Line either with an old blanket. The leaves and twigs stick to the blanket while the berries roll away down into a bucket. If you add little horizontal baffles to the gutter or chute, the big clean berries bounce over these obstacles leaving even more particles and debris behind. It’s reminiscent of gold miner’s chutes. This method works best with the larger mountain huckleberries whose stems break off fairly easily.

The coastal evergreens are not as easy to clean. Because of the tenacious stems, hand-picking makes good sense. I often freeze the berries then clean them while frozen. You roll the berries around with your hands on a sheet pan, the stems fall off easily. Then just shake them in a strainer and the stems will fall through.

Check out the full article for pictures, harvesting and preservation methods

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Despite what you may have heard, huckleberries are very different from blueberries.  To me, huckleberries taste like blueberries on steriods!!

Other say a huckleberry taste like a cross between a blueberry and a red raspberry.

One way of another, huckleberries and blueberries are very different!

Here is a exerpt from an article that will help you understand more of why ….Huckleberries and Blueberries

Huckleberries and blueberries are not the same

First of all, the locations of the two berries are different. Wild blueberries grow in the northeastern portion of North America, including Maine and the Atlantic portion of Canada. Huckleberries are native to the northwestern United States and Canada. In fact, the huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho.

 

Huckleberries
There are about 40 species of huckleberry in the United States The shrub grows from one to three feet high, and has resinous leaves which feel sticky when pinched.

 

Blueberries
There are 15 or 20 species of blueberries native in the United States. The flowers of the blueberry are white and bell-shaped. The two-foot high plants have leaves which are small, oval and alternately arranged

 

How to Distinguish Huckleberries from Blueberries
Huckleberries and blueberries are distinguishable by their seeds. Each huckleberry contains 10 hard seeds, while a blueberry has numerous soft seeds. The two plants also differ in stem texture. Huckleberry stems are smooth while the blueberry’s stem is “warty.” When you eat huckleberries and blueberries, you will agree that the taste is different.

 

Huckleberries and blueberries are good and good for you. Huckleberries are not commercially cultivated so blueberries are easier to find in grocery stores. You can go into the woods and pick huckleberries yourself.

With all the snow in the mountains this past winter and the rain in the spring, it is looking like we might have a good huckleberry season this summer!

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Huckleberry Poem

Posted January 27, 2016 By sandy

One of our readers submitted the following poem, written by his mom,  Laurel Moss from Mendocino, California:

Huckleberry Poem Lady

Bounty

“Huckleberries, hunkering under leaves

Fumbling fingers combing branches

Berries bouncing, ting-ing into tin bowls

The air clear

The aroma a bit musky

Little movement or sound

But of the crackling of branches underfoot

The revelation in shadow of beaded clusters

Black and blue berries

Sweet, sour, shiny

And spider webbed

in this late October day

The taste of autumn in the air.”

Huckleberry Poem

 

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Huckleberry Picking Stories from Around the Region

Posted September 4, 2015 By sandy

Huckleberry picking all over the northwest is sporadic this year due to the early season and the fires.

Pincher Creek Echo reported  the lack of berries at the Castle Mountain Resort in British Columbia:

For some huckleberry picking on Castle Mountain is a long standing tradition … . Despite the lack of berries to pick, the Castle Mountain crew were expecting around 1,000 visitors for the festival this year.

Big Rock Brewery parked their van full of kegs, Castle Ford handed out berry buckets, and a pig roasted in the corner as people made their way to the chairlift and up the mountain.

Spirits remained high, even though there weren’t any huckleberries to be found, and the normally brilliant view was clouded by smoke.

“We’re two weeks to late,” said some visitors, while locals said there weren’t many berries this year in the first place.

Shirley Smith, a seasoned berry picker from B.C. said she could tell by the colour of the leaves that it was too late in the season.

But the chairlift was busy all day with huckleberry hopefuls, cold beer and live music waiting for them when they made their way back down.

According to the video posted by the Global News, picking on Castle Mountain, in previous years, yielded an abundance of berries for pickers.



The Flathead Beacon
reported better news for huckleberry pickers in the Glacier National Park and the Great Bear Wilderness in Montana:

The Danny On Trail meanders through forests of Douglas fir, western larch and spruce while traversing grassy ski runs laced with dense patches of huckleberries that are still ripe for the picking.

The slight winter snowpack and historically dry summer has been tough on the huckleberries throughout the region, but bumper crops of hucks, while sporadic, still pepper the Big Mountain, particularly at higher elevations.

Carry a milk jug on your hike to Flower Point, or take the chairlift and walk to the prominence from the summit while keeping an eye peeled for berries.

 

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