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.
This is a pretty well-known and universal rule among huckleberry lovers. How can you tell? Well, when you ask where the best spot is, the answer will be a vague mountainous area. If you ask someone where their usual spot is, you’ll probably get something like, “I’m not sure the exact turnoff, we just kinda head that way,” with a wave of their hand.
Let me tell you, they know the exact location.
Why the secrecy and what is so great about huckleberries? Huckleberries are available only for a short time in the summer in very specific locations. If you miss them for the year, they’re gone. You can’t buy fresh huckleberries at the grocery store, and buying them at the market, or frozen, costs an arm and a leg.
So, when you find your own goldmine full of these little purple gems, you keep it to yourself.
To start, you need to find the huckleberry plants. In our area, you can head to the Blue Mountains, Waha, Orofino, Bovill, and I’m sure the list goes on. 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.
It takes a long time to pick, so if you’re in it to win it, you might want to keep little ones at home. That’s not to say it isn’t a fabulous family activity, because it’s definitely one of the best. It’s just hard for little ones to not only wait out the process but to also pick carefully and navigate sometimes tricky terrain. When we take the kids, we go for an hour or so and call it quits. That’s a perfect amount of time.
The great thing about these little berries is that they freeze so well. As soon as you get home, wash berries thoroughly to get rid of bugs and dirt. Drain and let them dry on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. After that, freeze them in Ziploc baggies or put in the fridge as you would fresh fruit. Better yet, use them right away for things like:
l Huckleberry pie
l Oatmeal toppings
l Simple syrup
l Savory reduction sauce (amazing with steak or chicken)
l Breakfast bars
However you decide to use your berries, be proud that you sacrificed clean hands, a lazy afternoon and easy access (like the grocery store) for the goodness you now hold.
And if anyone asks specifics, be very, very vague.
Prasil is a Clarkston mom of six who survives on stale Goldfish crackers, spontaneous adventures, happy hour and Bravo programming. She can be reached at email@example.com