Restoring Huckleberries After Fires

Posted August 10, 2016 By sandy

Last year experienced one of the biggest fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest — including the burning of several acres of huckleberry habitat.  Restoring huckleberries after fires is a concern of every huckleberry picker.

Historically, Native Americans burned huckleberry fields to improve the health of the huckleberry patches.  The Gifford Pinchot National Forest Huckleberry webpage describes this process:

For thousands of years, American Indians spent summer and fall high in the mountains hunting, fishing, picking berries, and celebrating the plentiful gifts of the land. Once every few years, they burned the berry fields after harvest, to kill invading trees and to insure healthy fields the following year. The Indians in this area regarded the rituals of picking, preserving, and eating berries as a cultural and traditional use with religious significance….

Thousands of years ago, uncontrolled wildfires created openings in the vast forest. Huckleberries prospered in the sunlight caused by these natural openings. For countless years, repeated fires caused by lightning or set by Indians killed the invading trees and brush. But the forest is constantly trying to reclaim its lost territory. If it were not for fire, the berry fields of today would have long since been reclaimed by the forest. Today, scientists are trying to determine the best method of maintaining the huckleberries as a valuable forest resource…

Restoring Huckleberries After Fires

In this tradition, the Colville Indian tribe is working to restore huckleberry plants on their reservation in northeast Washington.  The Tribal Tribune posted two stories about this project:

Nearing the one year anniversary of the fire, several Tribal and BIA programs gathered in the burned scarred area of Upper Gold Creek in hopes of reintroducing huckleberries (also known as vaccinium membranaceum) back to the area.

On July 13-14, Jon Meyers Project Lead/Resource Specialist for the BAER Team and History and Archeology accompanied by his staff, Mount Tolman Fire Center, Forestry Reforestation Offices and TANF Summer Youth Workers assigned to Forestry planted 1,880 huckleberry plants purchased from the University of Idaho with funds from the BAER Emergency Stabilization Fund.

If 50 percent of the plants survive, this project will be considered successful.

Read more about their efforts:

 

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Huckleberry Bars

Posted August 8, 2016 By sandy

If you’ve been out picking huckleberries this season and you found your purple treasure, you might want to make these delicious huckleberry bars.

From the Missoulian site:

GREG PATENT: Celebrating Montana’s huckleberry bounty

 

Huckleberry Bars

Huckleberry Bars

Ingredients

    The Almonds
  • 1/2 cup blanched or unblanched whole, sliced or slivered almonds
  • Butter Crust
  • 2 2/3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, refrigerator temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lime or lemon
  • 2 large egg yolks (reserve whites for filling)
  • Ice water, as needed
  • Filling
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 5 cups huckleberries, fresh or frozen
  • Streusel Topping
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, refrigerator temperature

Instructions

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan.
  2. To measure flour for this recipe, dip dry measuring cups into the flour container, fill to overflowing, and level with a metal spatula. Better yet, weigh the flour.
  3. For the almonds, put the nuts into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process about 30 seconds or until the nuts are finely ground. Don’t over-process of the nuts will turn pasty. Set aside.
  4. For the crust, cut the cold butter into tablespoon-size pieces. Put the metal blade in the work bowl of a food processor and add the flour, butter, salt, sugar, and zest. Process about 10 seconds until the dry ingredients are the texture of coarse meal. Put the egg yolks into a 1-cup glass measure with pouring spout and combine them with a fork. Add ice water to bring the volume to the 1/2-cup line and mix with the fork. Start the food processor and add the liquid through the feed tube in a steady stream, taking about 10 seconds. Stop the machine. Scrape the work bowl, and continue processing until the dough gathers into 2 or more large lumps, about 20 seconds. Dump the dough onto your work surface and press the lumps together. (Dough may be used immediately or wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days).
  5. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring about 19- x 14-inches. Don’t be concerned about rough edges; they’ll be trimmed away later. Set your rolling pin on a short end of the dough and carefully roll the dough around the rolling pin. Unroll the pastry so that it rests on the rim of the jelly-roll pan, covering the pan completely. Fit the dough loosely in the prepared pan, making sure it reaches snugly into all corners without stretching. Trim off excess dough with a small sharp knife. (Use scraps to make cookies, if you wish).
  6. For the filling, sprinkle the almonds evenly over the bottom of the crust. In a small bowl, whip the whites until they hold stiff peaks but look moist. Put the huckleberries into a medium bowl. Add the beaten whites and fold them with the huckleberries using a large rubber spatula. Spread the berries evenly over the almonds. There will be a thin layer of fruit, about the depth of 1 huckleberry.
  7. For the streusel, put the flour, sugar, and salt into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the cold butter into tablespoon-size pieces and add them to the work bowl. Process 20 to 30 seconds until the streusel is the consistency of fine crumbs. Spread evenly over the huckleberries without packing down.
  8. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the edges of the crust are well browned and the topping is golden. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into bars.
  9. Makes about 40 bars or 20 larger servings.
http://wildhuckleberry.com/2016/08/08/huckleberry-bars/

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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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The Future of Wild Huckleberries

Posted August 2, 2016 By sandy

On the heals of the story of Joe Culbreth’s success in growing huckleberry plants, Saveur Magazine published the following article, on the future of wild huckleberries, noting our organization and website:

The Future of Wild Huckleberries

These Beloved Wild Berries Are in Danger From Habitat Destruction—But They Refuse to Be Tamed

Every year, huckleberry obsessives eagerly await the start of the season. These squat purple berries look a lot like blueberries, but with a more sour bite, and unlike the summer fruits that you can find in just about any grocery store, Pacific Northwestern huckleberries only grow in the wild. And because of ecological disruption from logging and road construction, the berry’s cult followers are beginning to worry, Atlas Obscura reports….

… The solution to the huckleberry shortage may lie in domestication, but so far no one’s been that successful on any scale. Malcolm Dell, the founder of the Wild Huckleberry Association, says European settlers’ initial efforts to farm the berry failed because they were trying to replant the wrong parts. Soon the berries “developed a reputation for being unfarmable.” Since then, botanist Dr. Danny Barney has come close to replicating the berry, but was forced to stop researching when his lab closed because of budget problems….

Of course, one of the huckleberry’s main obstacles to domestication is that the berry’s devotees are partly attracted to its wildness. But if development continues unabated, there’s a chance most of those wild fruit lovers won’t be able to enjoy the tasty berry in its natural habitat—or at all….

Read the full article here

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Domesticate Huckleberries?

Posted July 28, 2016 By sandy

One of the International Wild Huckleberry Association’s friend and reader has made local news with his attempts to domesticate huckleberries.

Here is part of his story from the Coeur d Alene Press website:

Joe Culbreth

Berry and Nut Farm now producing huckleberries

Joe Culbreth’s 15-acre swath of land is beautifully organized into arcing rows of flowers, berries, grapes and a wide variety of fruit trees. He always wanted to plant and grow things when he retired, so he did….

Six years ago, he bought more than 1,200 huckleberry plants for his farm. Usually, when people want huckleberries, they go into to forest and pick them wild.

“I wanted something different and I love huckleberries,” he said. “I’ve been huckleberrying in Idaho since ’79.”

Culbreth bought huckleberry plants from a variety of locations, one of which was from the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Research and Extension Center where Dan Barney, head of the center, was doing research to domesticate huckleberries.

Over the years Culbreth has used Barney as a resource for information about maintaining the plants.

He learned huckleberries like partial shade. So, he planted blueberry bushes and dwarf apple trees on the west side of the huckleberries, to make that partial shade.

Unfortunately for Culbreth, Barney moved to Alaska recently, leaving Culbreth alone to tend to the huckleberries, which never grew. And year after year, they still never grew any berries. Each year, Culbreth held out hope the next year the plants would bear fruit.

Finally, in their sixth season on his property, the huckleberries are growing.

He thinks this year’s mild winter and early spring have helped the plants produce fruit. As of right now, most of the huckleberry bushes have produced fruit that looks ripe, but tastes green. One bush had good berries on it.

Read the full article here

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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….

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

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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.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

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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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Aftermath of the Huckleberry Festival in Jay

Posted July 7, 2016 By sandy

If you read my post from a week or so ago, you know that Jay Oklahoma hosted their annual huckleberry festival.

After the festival, Zack Collum, posted his review on the Grand Lake News website.
Aftermath of Huckleberry Festival in Jay

Here are some excerpts from his article on the Huckleberry Festival in Jay:

As I stood in line in front of the Grand River Abstract building, waiting for my ice cream with huckleberry sauce, my taste buds thought of the worst.

I thought ,”What if I turn out to be a big wuss and absolutely hate huckleberries?

What if I spit them out and everyone at the Huckleberry Festival gives me a concerned look when I walk by?”

I am thankful to report, this was not the case.

The huckleberry is better than I could have imagined. Not too sweet, not too bitter.

Gee, if Zack had lived somewhere near the Rocky Mountains where most people feel huckleberries are a common food staple (especially during this time of the year), he would already know how wonderful they taste in ice cream, in cakes, in fruit dishes, in specialty drinks and milk shakes, on salmon, in all kinds of baked goods ….. or just plain off the brush!

Here’s to Jay, Oklahoma’s Huckleberry Festival!!

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