All You Ever Wanted to Know – and then some – About the Elusive Huckleberry
Geography is the reason I haven’t had the pleasure until now. I was raised in Michigan and have lived east of Michigan, in the South, since age 20. Huckleberries don’t grow there. They grow above the 5,000’ level, rarely in grassy areas. They prefer a slope of 30 degrees. They want deep, loose soil, high acidity, sheltered but open. They like lots of moisture, but not wet soil. They especially like areas that burned. Still, there is no accounting for why some years yield better than others. They grow low and have to be searched for. And, no, they can’t be cultivated.
Huckleberries are related, in genus, to the wild blueberry of Michigan and Maine, as well as the cranberry. They are all in the heath family. But, that’s where the relationship ends. These taste nothing like the blueberry. The flavor of the huckleberry explodes in your mouth. It’s beyond any kind of berry I’ve ever tasted. One taste and it’s understood why huckleberry connoisseurs refer to blueberries as blahberries.
Huckleberry pickers are a hearty lot. In addition to the mountain climbing, they are sharing their workspace with the grizzly bears. Grizzlies depend on the huckleberry to prepare for their long winter’s nap, and summer sustenance. And, as it happens, the huckleberry’s choice of living space, is exactly that of the grizzly. Yet, the pickers, respectful of the bear, don’t have any tales of attacks. They just give them their space and their chosen berry bush. Moose, on the other hand, don’t seem to be as forgiving as the grizzly and will be aggressive if their berry picking spot is trespassed. During picking time, huckleberry camps appear on the upper slopes, where legend, lore, and tradition govern how to pick, and fill the buckets. This would explain why berry pickers are paid an unbelievable amount per pound. The huckleberry is the treasure of the Treasure State, Montana.
I had my first taste of huckleberry flavor in a piece of pie with ice cream. There are also candy, muffins, pancakes, fritters, cakes, wine, champagne, mixes, tea, vinegar, dumplings, pemmican and ice cream. And I’d come back to Montana for any of them.