Celebrating the Humble Huckleberry

Photo by Lynn Donaldson

Huckleberries are a fruit that the Northwest loves to claim as its own in a wide variety of ways. Not to be confused with blueberries, these tasty little nuggets probably won’t be found in your average supermarket fruit salad. Despite their diminutive demeanor, their impact is far-reaching.

Indigenous groups, particularly the Plateau peoples of Washington, Idaho and Montana, have been using the versatile fruit for centuries for social and sustenance purposes. Since they dry easily over fires and in the sun, they were stored for a shelf life beyond their immediate fresh uses. Medicinally, they were often used in teas. As for picking the berries, gathering them was an opportunity for tribal members to interact and enjoy each other’s company. The importance of the first harvest was celebrated by some groups through ritualistic first-fruit ceremonies.

For people in the Northwest hoping to pick huckleberries today, the season is brief but fruitful. Late August through late September is usually the best time for getting the ripest, tastiest berries in the wild. With a little searching, it’s easy to find maps of trails that are known for their plentiful bushes. Although the plant itself doesn’t have spines or thorns, it’s definitely advisable to wear full pants to protect your legs from the plant’s pricklier neighbors.

If you’re hoping to integrate the berries into your life in other creative ways, plenty of products are available to help you do so. Everything from cold pressed juices to jams to ice creams are available in stores and online. Bath and body products are also available from a wide variety of vendors, from soaps to lotions to fragrances. The Pacific Northwest Shop even has an all-huckleberry line of edible products that includes pancake mix, licorice, coffees and chocolates. And don’t forget about huckleberry spirits, like Wild Roots Huckleberry Vodka.

If you want to bring huckleberries into your own kitchen, baking is a great way to go. Strong enough to carry the weight of a dish but not so overpowering that it needs to be the center of attention, the fruit is versatile enough to fit a wide variety of styles and tastes. Huckleberry pies, cheesecakes and crisps are surefire hits. Themed baking contests are popular parts of huckleberry-themed events that pepper the calendars of Northwest summers.

To read the rest of this article, find the July/August 2018 issue of Northwest Travel and Life on newsstands at Albertsons, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Barnes & Noble or your local retailer through August 31st, 2018.

Subscribe online at nwtravelmag.com/subscribe