When you hear the word “huckleberry,” your mind may wander to the Mississippi River, where Huckleberry Finn and Jim go on a wild adventure that leads to many personal awakenings for both characters.
However, if you are from the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountain Region, your mind probably takes you on a very different journey when you hear that distinctive word.
Suppose you are from the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountain Region. In that case, you are probably transported back to your childhood, where your grandma somehow managed to work those magical, wild berries into everything she cooked while they were in season. Or maybe you remember the last berry season when you attempted to follow in grandma’s footsteps by incorporating them into your own concoctions.
If you are of the latter group, you can attest to the fact that huckleberries will, no doubt, engrain themselves into the very fabric of your culinary world. If you are of the former group, take your nose out of the books and find a way to try this delectable berry as soon as humanly possible. And prepare yourself for a wild ride.
What the Heck Is a Huckleberry?
If you are not from an area where huckleberries are native, you may be unfamiliar with precisely what they are.
Imagine that a cranberry and a blueberry had a love child. That child would be the huckleberry. They have a darker hue than blueberries, appearing to be blue-black in color. The huckleberry is a bit sweeter than the cranberry but has a more tart taste than the blueberry. Still, they share a similar flavor.
Huckleberries stand out from blueberries for a couple of reasons. Huckleberries have a distinct flavor because:
- They have a thicker skin which tends to intensify their flavor.
- They have several seeds inside, giving them a crunchy texture that blueberries do not have.
While huckleberries have been an important part of life for many area Native American tribes for thousands of years, it took a bit of time for the berry to catch on with explorers and settlers. But once it happened, they went wild for the wild berry.
During the early 20th century, Americans’ desire for huckleberries was in full force. Because huckleberries only grow in the wild and cannot be cultivated, those searching for the berry had to meet them on the berry’s territory.
Huckleberries grow best in rich soil, and recently burned forest areas often have the richest land. Those areas are optimal places to locate the berries.
Because of that, many Americans searching for huckleberries would converge on the lands where they prevalently grew. Often, so many people would be in the same area for weeks or even months at a time that encampments would be created, allowing for a sort of communal living experience amongst harvesters.
There were even families who took this opportunity to allow their children to court, making huckleberry harvesting season a truly social time.
This sense of communal living also allowed Americans to mingle harmoniously with the Native American people who were searching for the berries for cultural and culinary reasons.
Today, huckleberries are a big business in their growing regions. There are even festivals dedicated to this wild berry.
Now, people who plan to harvest huckleberries must have a permit to do so, as most of the coveted berries are found on preserved parklands or Native Indian reservations or preserves. You need deep pockets if you don’t intend to pick your own huckleberries.
Huckleberries are known to go for upwards of $15 per pound. Harvesters try to justify these elevated prices by reminding prospective buyers that it takes longer than one might think to harvest that one pound of huckleberries because there is no easy, innovative way to pick them.
Regardless, those who are wild about this wild berry don’t seem to mind paying the premium as long as they can get their fix.
What Are They Good For?
For many, they can satisfy their huckleberry itch by simply eating them by the handfuls. Others with more discerning pallets need to flex their culinary prowess by creating dishes with the berry as the star.
Some of the most popular dishes for huckleberries include:
- Sweet rolls
- Jams and jellies
- Pickled relish
- Huckleberry pork
- Salmon with huckleberry sauce
Huckleberry, the Very Wild Berry: A Story Richer Than its Flavor
While huckleberries are not readily available throughout the world, those who are fortunate enough to have access to them are typically crazy about them. They are versatile and full of flavor, sure to satisfy just about any appetite.
Beyond their taste, huckleberries have a very interesting history in America. These wild berries come complete with a rich story that proves that huckleberries are a very wild berry indeed.