Posted March 31, 2015 By sandy
Although Dr. Barney is not currently propagating and growing huckleberries, he is still considered the expert on the subject and giving interviews to interested parties.
We are fortunate to have a written copy of his interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter:
1. Where does domestication of the berries stand now? Is there research close to succeeding?
Unfortunately, I believe little university or other government research is presently being conducted on domestication of western huckleberries and bilberries. Research funding is limited, and efforts are being directed toward well-established crops, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Much knowledge remains to be discovered and developed before most western Vaccinium crops can be grown successfully in commercial settings.
It is important to identify the different crops. I use the term “western huckleberries and bilberries,” which includes about eight species in the genus Vaccinium. All are edible, and several have outstanding culinary quality. The seeds are usually small to very small. The common names “huckleberry,” “bilberry,” and “whortleberry” are interchangeable and many species are known by all of these names and more. Eastern huckleberries are members of genus Gaylusaccia and, like Vaccinium, members of family Ericaceae. Unlike western Vaccinium species, eastern huckleberries have ten large, hard seeds and the berry flavor and culinary quality leave much to be desired. When it came time to domesticate a blue American fruit, farmers and breeders chose highbush and lowbush blueberries.
The domestication efforts that I was involved with included work on Vaccinium species … have the greatest immediate potential as culinary crops. Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leaf huckleberry) has good potential as a nutraceutical crop due to its high antioxidant properties. I did not work much with Vaccinium ovatum (shot or blackwinter huckleberry) which grows along the Pacific coast and has been cultivated to a small extent, primarily for ornamental foliage used by florists.
We were able to develop and demonstrate several production systems, and know how to grow the berries. I grew many thousands of plants in Idaho and colleagues also grew the plants successfully in northwestern Montana and western Oregon. The greatest limiting factor is the lack of improved varieties that have been developed to provide good site adaptability, acceptable growth and plant habit, and commercially-acceptable fruit in sustainable yields.
My breeding program at the University of Idaho produced some advanced selections. However, we were still at least one and probably two generations from releasing a cultivated variety when the research station that I was at closed due to budget cuts and I left the University. That program was not picked up by anyone else. Some of the selections are still being tested by growers in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. I intend to resume the Vaccinium breeding program upon my retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2015. That program will take place in Southcentral Alaska.
2. Can you explain the incentives to domesticate the berries? Is it primarily commercial manufacturers pushing the research? What are the economic and ecological incentives and/or potential drawbacks to domesticating the berry?
Western huckleberries and bilberries have been harvested for food for at least centuries and likely millennia. They were vitally important both for food and trade for several Native American and First Peoples nations in western North America. When European colonists arrived they quickly adopted the crops and by the early 1900s were shipping large quantities of wildcrafted (plants harvested from the wild) berries to eastern markets. Picking the berries is very labor intensive and usually takes place in remote locations. The fruits are borne individually on the bushes, rather than in large cluster like domestic blueberries, and mechanical harvesters are not often feasible. Therefore, the amount of berries one person can pick per day is low. The commercial market peaked in the 1930s, and largely died during World War II when labor became scarce. The market began to re-emerge in the 1980s as general and ecotourism increased in the Northwest and western Canada.
Prior to the early 1900s, forest fires were not controlled and the forests were very different than they are now. Tree density was lower and understory shrubs much more abundant. With the advent of modern fire-fighting methods, fires were largely removed from the landscape. Native Americans had long kept highly productive berry harvest areas productive using controlled fires. That practice was outlawed. By the end of the 20th century, tree density had greatly increased while productive berry acreage shrank dramatically as the trees reclaimed the landscape and shaded out the berry crops.
While none of the berry species is threatened or endangered, colonies suitable for commercial harvest have greatly decreased in size and number due to forest encroachment and development of forest lands. With increased demand for the fruit for commercial culinary and nutraceutical purposes, commercial harvests have become increasingly aggressive and have reduced the availability of fruit for cultural, recreational, and subsistence pickers. In a related way, commercial harvests have resulted in conflicts with some Northwestern Native American groups, for whom huckleberries are an important part of their culture.
Wild huckleberry harvests are highly variable. During some years, the yields are very high and during other years very low. On average, you can expect a good harvest every 3 to 7 years. Such unpredictability makes operating a commercial enterprise challenging and encourages overharvest whenever the opportunity presents itself. The unpredictability also influences prices greatly, impacting income for pickers, brokers, and processors.
My program was intended to provide reliable crops of commercially sustainable quantities of fruit grown in cultivation or in managed forest stands (like highbush and lowbush blueberries, respectively) and to leave the wild forest huckleberry colonies for noncommercial harvests.
More of the interview next post!
Posted March 17, 2015 By sandy
Looking for a new unique huckleberry dish to create NOW, before huckleberry season?
Our huckleberry vinegar, featured on our Tastes of Idaho website, has many delicious purposes, other than use in salads, in cooking your favorite sweet and sour dish.
Check out the Wildbeary recipe below:
You can find Wildbeary Huckleberry Vinegar on our Tastes of Idaho website.
Enjoy your huckleberry sweet and sour sauce!
Posted March 4, 2015 By sandy
Recently, we made a new ‘huckleberry lover’ friend: The Huckleberry Basket!
John contacted me to ask if he could use some of our huckleberry photos for his new website. Of course, a conversation ensued and, once again, I discovered that huckleberry lovers are some of the nicest people!
So, I have dedicated this post to share some of the wonderful information he has on his website:
… The most basic suggesting for cleaning is pouring the berries out on a cookie sheet, and then pick out the berries by hand. This is a very simple process, however it’s a bit time consuming, and asking friends or family for help will shorten your yield!
Another option is to simply dunk the berries into a bucket filled with water. The berries will sink to the bottom and most of the bugs, stems and leaves will float up to the top. This is a great way to clean out the berries, it’s less time consuming, and does a pretty good job at getting them clean. My only complaint about this is it can waterlog the berries, and if you toss them right into the freezer you will end up with clumps of berries when it comes time to pulling some out.
My favorite is something that requires a bit of ingenuity. This process is almost like sluicing for gold. You take berries and slide them down an incline, and the basic idea is that the berries will roll down the incline and sticks, stems, and leaves will be left behind….
John suggests some good methods for cleaning berries.
How do you clean your berries? If you use a different method, please share it with us!
Posted February 5, 2015 By sandy
Looking for huckleberries in north Idaho?
Coeur d Alene is a famous resort town, known for its fine dining, beautiful lake Coeur d Alene and it’s beaches, and HUCKLEBERRIES!
But, of course, you won’t find any huckleberries to pick this time of the year! But, the Guide to North Idaho has a listing of wonderful places to experience huckleberries!
If you’re not inclined to compete with the bears and birds for Idaho’s official state fruit, there are multiple other ways to enjoy huckleberries:
- Baskin Robbins in Coeur d’Alene features dozens of toppings including fresh huckleberries.
- Paul Bunyon Burgers has been a local favorite since 1952. What do the locals love about Paul Bunyon in the summertime? Huckleberry milkshakes!
- Sargent’s on Government Way in Hayden not only serves up the best steaks in town, but also the best huckleberry pie!
- Huckleberry topped salads and cheesecake are a must try at 315 Martinis, Tapas and Dinner at the Greenbriar Inn.
Huckleberries are the star each August when the Huckleberry / Heritage Festival takes place in Wallace the 3rd weekend. Besides a bake-off and Huckleberry pancake breakfast, vendors have huckleberry goods along with other arts and crafts. There’s also live music, a fun run, downtown bicycle race and a bicycle hillclimb to the top of Dobson Pass.
If you are inclined to visit Coeur d Alene to pick huckleberries …
By mid-June, berries on south facing lower slopes are ripe. Good picking is as late as October on north slopes. Abundant huckleberry picking spots are available throughout North Idaho. Best picking is between late July and early August. Visit parksandrecreation.idaho.gov or contact the Priest Lake Ranger District, (208)443-2512 www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/priestlake
Posted January 7, 2015 By sandy
I hope you had a wonderful huckleberry holiday season!
Personally, we sent huckleberry products and gift baskets from our Tastes of Idaho site to over 27 states — and even one basket to Ireland!!
By the way, we are currently running a After the Holiday sale on the site. Check it out here to receive 35% off your order!!
In the meantime, check out the following Huckleberry Bundt Cake recipe from the Seattle Flour Child website:
Huckleberry Bundt Cake with Meringue Frosting
- 3 C All Purpose Flour
- 1 T baking powder
- 1 t salt
- 1 – 2/3 C sugar
- 3/4 C unsalted butter – at room temp
- 3 large eggs
- 1 T orange zest
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 3/4 C buttermilk
- 2 C frozen huckleberries (it’s important they are frozen, or they will bleed all over the cake)
- MERINGUE FROSTING
- 1 C sugar
- 1/3 C water, minus 1 T
- 1 T orange juice
- 2 egg whites
- 1 pinch cream of tartar
- 1/2 t vanilla
- Preheat your oven to 350. Use shortening and flour to ready your bundt pan or spray generously. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light. Add eggs one at a time, and then add orange zest, vanilla and almond. Mix thoroughly and add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Fold in berries, pour into pan and bake ~50 minutes until top springs back easily. Cool at least 8 – 10 minutes and then turn out onto a plate or rack.
- FROSTING: Begin heating sugar and water /juice in a small saucepan. Add a candy thermometer to the pan. Continue to boil as you froth two egg whites in the base of a standing mixer. Add cream of tartar when egg whites are frothy, stop beating. When sugar reaches about 225 degrees, begin whipping the egg whites on high until peaks form. When sugar mixture reaches 240 or soft ball stage, remove from heat and pour in a steady stream into whites, with mixer running on low. Beat for 7 full minutes until fluffy and glossy – and add half teaspoon vanilla.
Posted December 10, 2014 By sandy
We have been incredibly busy! With all the orders for huckleberry products we are filling from our Tastes of Idaho website, I really didn’t have time to come up with a tantalizing post! Instead, I did a quick web search on huckleberries and discovered a few interesting sites and information.
First, I found a list of 101 recipes using huckleberries!! Yes, 101!!
If you are adventurous, here is the link: Huckleberries on Yahoo.
Huckleberry patches in northern Idaho mountains
Another article I found interesting is from Wise Geek: What are Huckleberries
Huckleberry is the name for a number of different shrubs in the Ericaceae family, which also includes blueberries and cranberries. Plants with this name come primarily from two genera: Gaylussacia and Vaccinium. The berries are small and round, with a similar appearance to blueberries, though their color may range instead from deep crimson to eggplant purple. The taste is also often compared to that of blueberries, although it is distinct.
The different types of huckleberries include the black, box, dwarf, and thinleaf. Red ones grow primarily in the western part of North America, preferring slightly acidic soils in the coastal regions. The black and dwarf plants grow mostly in the mid- and eastern part of the continent, while the woolly and Confederate huckleberry grow in the southern US. These plants haven’t been domesticated, and different varieties grow wild throughout North America.
The berries ripen in mid- to late summer, often reaching their peak in August, although this can depend of the variety, location, and growing conditions. Very few are available in grocery stores; the best place to look for them is either in the wild or at local farmer’s markets. Since they are not grown commercially, they are often more expensive than other berries.
It is generally recommended that people avoid picking the berries in early evening or early morning hours, especially in relatively remote areas. They are a favorite food of bears, including brown and black bears, and grizzlies. In fact, bears are famous for quickly eating huckleberries, since the high sugar helps them store fat for long and lean winters.
The fruit can be used much like blueberries, and they make good jams, pies, cobblers or preserves. It may also be possible to buy jam or syrup and occasionally fresh berries from a variety of Internet sites.
There are a few reasons why this species of berry has not adapted well to commercial farming. The plants take a number of years to grow to maturity and produce fruit, and they also prefer acidic soils. Another reason farmers tend not to bother with them is because they have to be handpicked. Machines that pick blueberries don’t work well with huckleberries, so harvesting them is more labor intensive. Research is being done to find ways to make the berry more easily cultivated.
The relative rarity and difficulty in obtaining huckleberries translates to significant cost. They are usually sold in frozen packages. It is much harder to find fresh ones, and their availability is often limited to areas in which they flourish in the wild.
Posted December 4, 2014 By sandy
Pinterest is newer to the internet than our Wild Huckleberry website. Despite that, numerous huckleberry sites and Pinterest boards have cropped up since then and share some wonderful recipes.
Over the last several months, we have liked a few Pinterest pages on huckleberries that are very interesting.
But, first, before I share what I found, let me ask you to check out our Huckleberries on Pinterest page:
Here are some of the Pinterest board I found that feature huckleberries and huckleberry recipes (And yes, I know they mostly have the same name — misspellings and all — but here they are):
If you have a huckleberry Pinterest board and it is not listed here, please share in the comments below!
Posted November 26, 2014 By sandy
Huckleberries in a vinaigrette makes one of the most wonderful tasting vinaigrettes! One of the first times I ever tried it was at a restaurant owned by one of my friend. She has a specialty salad where she added huckleberry vinaigrette over a bed of lettuce, candies pecans and dried cranberries. It was delicious.
Of course, when I finally found a good recipe, I saved it to share here:
- 3/4 cup or so of huckleberries
- 2 tbsp raw honey
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 to 1 cup of olive oil
- In a small food processor, mix the huckleberries, honey, vinegar, and salt. Pour the mixture into a bowl and then whisk in the olive oil. The mixture will separate as it sits so just make sure to whisk it up before putting on your salad.
But, if you want to serve huckleberry vinaigrette on your salad, you can just purchase a bottle of my favorite from our Tastes of Idaho website:
Perhaps the most delicious salad dressing on the planet! (I have to take my Mom a bottle every time I got to visit.) Perfectly flavored and blended, and a great regular stock item in your fridge, or as a specialty treat during the holidays or other special occasions. Stylish 8.5-ounce bottle, and great labeling.
Made in north Idaho where the huckleberries grow wild!!
Click here to purchase!