In honor of the western mountain huckleberry
It is nearly impossible to make a huckleberry pie while dancing to “Ramblin’ Man.”
Let’s just get that out there for starters. Oh, partial gyration is possible while you’re rinsing berries or checking the recipe, but when the chorus comes along you can forget about accurate measuring or crimping pie crust.
Despite the former declaration, I somehow managed to create a pie of perfection the other day while rollin’ down Highway 41. (Allman Brothers fans take note.)
It is huckleberry season. My cousin, Tom, mountain hiker extraordinaire, recently stopped by with a hefty bag of freshly picked and washed mountain huckleberries. What could I do but bake pies? He shall receive one if I can get it to him soon enough.
I tried a new recipe posted online by some angel known only as Shirl, but I have her to thank for several sublime moments since. Recipe posted below for general lip-smacking pleasure.
As long-time readers may recall, my default therapy when life runs wild (when does it not?) involves baking. I strap on one of many full-on aprons and take a stance at the island to fashion some kind of dough or other. Recent cooler temperatures tricked my autumnal-leaning brain into thinking that baking season had arrived. I went with it.
I plan to make more of these mouth-watering pies today — some to be given away, of course. Good thing my freezer is limited? But, first, a little something about the Northwestern wild berry, which requires hiking and discovery in well-guarded locations.
Mountain huckleberries are one form of a non-native berry that goes by other names, mainly in the British Isles, where it is referred to as a bilberry. Our word, “huckleberry,” is a variation from other English dialectal names, “hurtleberry” (used specifically when battles wage between two or more groups of mischievous children) or “whortleberry.”
Leave it to the English to produce such whimsical nomenclature. I made one up the other day when I texted the word, “hucklenberry” to my daughter. I like it so much, I may continue using it just to see how many people correct me on Facebook.
Huckleberries thrive under difficult circumstances. They love volcanic, acidic soil, formerly burned areas, and are one of few plants to survive on the flanks of Mount St. Helens after the big ka-blooey of 1980. As those who harvest them know, braving poison oak and competing bears, hucklenberries like living the high life and are found in mountain forests.
Oregon is a berry-friendly place to live. I found this interesting side note in an article by Crystal Ligori for Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Oregon is the home to a one-of-a-kind berry breeding program between Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service. Since 1917, this collaboration has developed new berry crop varieties for the Pacific Northwest. The partnership between OSU and USDA-ARS is behind some of the most iconic berries, like Marion blackberries and Hood strawberries, both developed by berry breeder George F. Waldo.”
And now, here’s the recipe I promised. It’s actually a mix of huckleberries, blueberries and apple. Start with your favorite double pie crust recipe and spoon in this filling:
1½ cups hucklenberries
1½ cups blueberries
1 cup shredded apple
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons (or a bit more) flour for thickening
Dash of salt
Mix together and fill crust, dot with a little butter, and cover with top crust. Poke holes in the top. Stop dancing or switch to Gregorian chants while you crimp the edge. Pop into a 375-degree oven for about an hour or until golden and dribbling. Be sure to have something under the pie to catch the dribs, or you’ll be chiseling burned berry syrup off of your oven and fanning smoke alarms.
To quote my wonderful grandmother, Goby, “Never trust a huckleberry road.” Nevertheless, she did manage excellent pies.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.