Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 224: Foraging Wild Red Huckleberries

July 24, 2012

The Red Huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium, with its sweet-tart taste was a part of my Oregon childhood. I sampled them green in the spring, even though Mother warned of tummy aches. And I ate handfuls of bright red berries in the summer, even though Mother warned of tummy aches. Several bushes grow wild on my Seabeck property, and I eat them regularly as I garden or do yard work. The berries never caused tummy aches while I was growing up, and they still do not. The abundance of fruit-laden bushes along my roadway is great. I’m guessing tummy-ache phobia leaves red huckleberries for the birds. My neighbors have no idea what they are missing.

The red huckleberry, like most berries, is loaded with vitamin C. But honestly, they don’t taste all that great in the natural state. I mean, they are okay, kind of fun to eat, but not really all that sweet and yummy like a blackberry or a wild strawberry. I eat them because the berries exist and like a bird, I’m attracted to the bright red hue. I do not eat them for taste or hunger satiation. I’ve never been that desperate.

Since starting my killing spree, I see food in nature differently. Red huckleberries have only been an amusement, not a food source. But now I realize how silly it is to let a fiber-loaded, vitamin and iron rich antioxidant go to waste. So I picked.

Huckleberries are tiny, like little red currents, and hard to pick, like plucking precious pearl earrings snagged in shag carpeting. It took me an hour to gather six cups. Later I learned that real huckleberry pickers use rakes and comb the bushes rather than finger each tiny morsel.

I gathered enough for a pie and decided to try my hand at a wild dessert for tonight’s supper. Unfortunately, Jasper – my awesome helper dog, ate approximately a cup of berries from my container while I wasn’t looking. Jade and Garret, unaware of dog slobber, polished off another cup. I was picked-out for the day, so I had to come up with another idea.

I Google searched for wild huckleberry recipes and ran across fellow forager, Langdon Cook’s blogspot. I met Langdon at a mushroom society meeting several months ago. I bought his book, Fat of the Land. He gave me an autograph, and that was that. So, it was kind of fun to virtually cross paths as I read his suggestion for broiled halibut with red huckleberries. http://fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/2009/08/broiled-halibut-with-red-huckleberry.html

Langdon recommended making a chutney-like substance out of the huckleberries and using it to sauce the fish. This sounds great to me and I just happen to have some lovely halibut I caught during my May visit to Alaska. Langdon recommended the following recipe for the chutney:
1 1/2 cups red huckleberries
1/4 cup port
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp balsamic
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp lemon juice

Well, as it turns out, I’m fresh out of port. Actually, I’ve never purchased port before. I’ve enjoyed it only a time or two. Perhaps I need to change my port habits. Anyway, I’m also not one for following directions, especially when said directions are issued from a man. It’s a personality flaw that I’m not really doing much to remedy at the present time. However, I did use Langdon’s recipe as guide to create my own killer sauce. The genius ingredient that I find most inspiring is the balsamic. I think this is what saves the sauce from being a preserve better intended for biscuits.  

I decided to go balls-out and make enough to glaze tonight’s fish and enough to put away just in case I ever kill a pheasant or quail or duck or squab (I don’t yet know what a squab is) or something turkey-like. Maybe I’ll save a jar for Thanksgiving.

Christine’s Recipe: Killer Red Huckleberry Sauce (makes about 2 ½ cups)
4 cups of wild, red huckleberries (dog slobber and leaves removed).
½ cup cabernet
½ organic grape juice
1 ½ cups raw sugar
1 tsp Saigon cinnamon
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
Coarsely grated peel of whole orange
3 tbsp Fig balsamic

1.    Bring everything but the fig balsamic to boil in heavy saucepan. Reduce until natural pectin starts to jell. Stir in the balsamic and cook over low heat until the mixture looks thick enough to spread.

2.    (I pulled 1/2 cup to glaze my fish and then canned the rest). Ladle into 2 sterile half-pint jars, seal with sterile 2-piece lids, and process in hot water bath. Canning is so much easier than you might think, but a little research is always a good idea. Try this website: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/how-to-can-jam-jelly-zecz11zsmi.aspx
There is much to learn about wild huckleberries and much more I’d like to share with you. But I had to get the fish on the grill and feed these hungry boys of mine. I smoked the halibut low and slow, basting it with my huckleberry glaze. So damn fabulous...

I have a feeling that huckleberries, red and purple, will become a staple in my pantry. I also know I'll be looking into the purchase of a huckleberry rake. Proper tools always make a task more enjoyable.

I may even hit a few festivals and meet huckleberry aficionados and newbie fanciers, like me. Maybe I'll see you there. http://wildhuckleberry.com/category/huckleberry-festivals/


  1. Christine, I really enjoyed your blog. I also live in Seabeck. My family and I just returned from a walk on our trail where we picked two quarts of Red Huckleberries. We used our Huckleberry rake. It's a fantastic tool and made for quick picking. I look forward to trying your Killer Red Huckleberry Sauce. It sounds delicious.


  2. Help fund graduate student thesis on red huckleberry. Crowdfunding link: https://www.classy.org/campaign/red-huckleberry-production-and-gathering-by-native-americans/c111587