In Our August/September 2016 Issue
Food For Thought
Experiencing the local flavor is always an adventure when traveling. Most communities have a unique flavor that is infused in their particular culture: food, liquor, candles, art. In Kentucky, it’s bourbon. In Whitefish, Montana, it’s huckleberries.
There’s a mystical quality about huckleberries. A cousin to the blueberry, huckleberries tend to be smaller in size yet are considered to be 10 times sweeter. However, huckleberry shrubs are a bit harder to tame, requiring specific soil conditions, temperatures and elevations (3,000–6,000 feet) to thrive. Domesticating the berry has been virtually impossible, and so foraging is the main, if not only, harvesting technique. This makes huckleberries a precious commodity; locals can fetch $7.50/pound wholesale (up to $20/pd. retail!) for the purple gems.
Inspired by Wren Smith’s foraging tips in our June/July issue, I was especially excited about the idea of foraging Montana huckleberries while visiting my sister Lesley. Little did I know that it is easier said than done. There are the bears to contend with, and the people. We made the rookie mistake of asking a local for a recommendation of a good spot and her response was, “Go to the fork in the road and turn right.”
After two failed huckleberry-picking expeditions, my husband, Wes, and I gave it one last effort before departing for Louisville. Armed with fire-extinguisher-sized bear spray, we headed into the woods.
Part of the thrill of this hunt is the possibility of running into bears, which doesn’t happen often but does happen. Another challenge is locating and identifying the shrub itself. The berries grow below the leaves so they are not obvious at first glance. My sister says, “They’re invisible, but once you find one, they’re everywhere.”
For three hours we foraged, and just when I thought my back couldn’t take it any longer, I would spot a new bush dripping with berries and my excitement renewed. Afterward, we were tired, sore, covered in mosquito bites and purple juice, and absolutely giddy. Giddy with our harvest and the anticipation of the huckleberry cobbler to come. It was delicious, in taste and in the satisfaction of having worked so hard to gather each and every berry.
I hope you take time to forage in the woods, or familiarize yourself with the local flavor wherever you travel. Nothing beats the cultural delicacies waiting to be explored, just below the leaves.
-Ann Curtis, Managing Editor