Picking Wild Huckleberries Archive

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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Huckleberry Picking Update

Posted July 27, 2015 By sandy

With huckleberry season in full swing, reports are coming in on the availability and picking success.

Here are some of the articles:Huckleberry Picking Update

Idaho Huckleberries Arrive Early, Pickers Out ‘In Droves’

By George Prentice

A particularly warm and dry spring and summer are triggering an earlier huckleberry season this year.The Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review is reporting that huckleberry pickers are filling Inland Northwest slopes “in droves.”

Most huckleberries, native to the northwestern United States, grow wild, particularly in national and state parks, They typically require elevations between 2,000 and 11,000 feet and thrive in acidic mountain soil. Huckleberries are also known to grow in lower elevation patches near bodies of water.

“Huckleberry picking is serious business for a lot of people,” Jay Kirchner, spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, told the Spokesman-Review. “It’s a fun way to connect with the land.”

In addition to Idaho’s Panhandle, Gem State pickers traditionally grab fistfuls of huckleberries in and around Ponderosa State Park in McCall.

Check out this article which includes a video:

Huckleberries are popping up in higher elevations early this year

 

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Huckleberry Picking is On!

Posted July 20, 2015 By sandy

According to the Spokesman Review …

Time is ripe for hounding huckleberries

The same weather that brought a thin snowpack, early runoff and an explosive wildfire season has delivered something that is infinitely more positive: an early and flavorful huckleberry crop.

Berries are now ripening at all elevations, and the word is getting out. Pickers are appearing on Inland Northwest slopes in good numbers.Huckleberry Picking is On!

Highlights from article include ….

The fruit is generally found above 4,000 feet in elevation and is a dominant shrub type in subalpine zones. However, there are small patches of lower-elevation huckleberries, including a number of tantalizing bushes in areas like Priest Lake.

But most huckleberry picking occurs up the slopes, often along hiking trails and old gravel roads….

…For many locals, Mount Spokane State Park is the closest, easiest place to go for berries even though there are many other locations where the berrying is at least as good or better.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort has its ninth annual Huckleberry Festival set for Aug. 2, with picking tours and a “huckle shuttle” to ferry pickers back and forth from the patches.

Priest Lake had its huckleberry festival Saturday.

In Wallace, the town’s huckleberry festival is set for Aug. 14 and 15….

…Huckleberries are found all over the mountain at Schweitzer, and that includes the ski runs. The same goes for Mt. Spokane and the 49 Degrees North ski area at Chewelah Peak.

Despite the early season, some reports indicate that berry production is spotty in places. Dry areas exposed to sun and heat are not producing as well. Berries may also be small….

… Inland Northwest forests contain numerous habitats, many of which offer more shade and moisture. While temperatures reached triple digits in the valleys in late June, temperatures at upper elevations didn’t top the 80s.

And some stress is good for the berries, said author Asta Bowen, who wrote “The Huckleberry Book.” The amount of water a huckleberry gets from melting snow and seasonal rains will dictate flavor intensity. Less water yields more flavor.

Since this year’s berries have been growing on limited moisture, the huckleberries should prove to be tasty….

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Huckleberry Picking are On!! -- The Huckleberry Book by Asta Bowen

Also quoted in the article is Asta Bowen and her book:  The Huckleberry Book.

Her book is filled with fun stories, information and recipes.

You can find Asta Bowen’s book on our sister site:  Tastes of Idaho.

 

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More on the Montana Huckleberry Forecast

Posted July 11, 2015 By sandy

Sounds like, if you want to go picking in western Montana, it is best to get out there soon or you may not find any huckleberries!!

Hot weather changing Western Montana huckleberry season

Chances are, if you are a passionate huckleberry picker, you have your More on the Montana Huckleberry Forecastspot – your secret spot – that you do not share with others. With our record-setting hot and dry June, the question is will your spot feature the same ripe output you’re used to.

“I think it really puts a burden on the plant. It’s a lot of stress, so we could actually see some of the plants shedding fruit, or having some poor development because of that,” Missoula County Extension Office Horticulturist Seth Swanson said.

He stressed that the season will be far from a total loss, but said you may have to search a little harder to find the good ones. One thing Swanson has found as he has hiked the trails around Western Montana is patches of huckleberries that are out sooner than usual, especially around the 6,000-foot level.

“Warm weather shed some of the snow quite a bit earlier this year, plus coupled with a lower snowpack.  But, really those early warm temperatures – kind of prolonged warm temperatures – kind of sped up that development,” Swanson said.

He told MTN News that with the front end of huckleberry season starting early, it is almost certain that the back end will come sooner than normal.

“Maybe the third week of July, last year looking at some records of mine was pretty prime for picking, and I think we’re going to see that shifted a couple of weeks early.  I’m seeing quite a bit out there right now,” Swanson said.

The bottom line is that if you plan on heading out to your secret huckleberry picking destination this season, don’t wait until it’s too late, and be prepared to spend a little extra time searching in order to fill your bags with your favorite purple summertime treat.

Read the full article from KBZK News

I certainly hope we can find huckleberries in other areas of the Pacific northwest!

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