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Huckleberry Friends

Wild Huckleberry Crisp

In Montana, the locals do not tell you where their favored huckleberry patch is. You hope that in hiking enough trails you will come upon a clearing that has not been completely picked over, or more importantly, that no grizzly bears have beat you to the spot in pursuit of their daily 20,000 calories. (Imagine trying to eat 20,000 calories a day in tiny berries.) The berries are worth it: they are cousin to blueberry but possess an intensely sweet-tart, subtly spicy flavor that puts blueberries to shame.

I am a little embarrassed to admit, then, that after so much unbridled enthusiasm for huckleberries in Montana, I had no idea that they grow rampant in Northern California. The fact that I grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where they are practically a weed, and never knew, is almost shameful.

Thankfully, folks in California aren’t so secretive about their picking locations. They don’t need to be – the variety of huckleberry that grows down here is more generous in its production of fruit. When, a week ago at Iso Rabin’s latest foraged dinner, I asked him where he got his berries from and he told me without pause, I felt like I had struck gold.

Four days later a friend and I were in Pt. Reyes, hiking through Douglas firs thick with moss, an impenetrable wall of ocean fog just visible through the trees, dapply sunlight and piles and piles of berries. We were so absorbed in the activity that we had to speed walk out of the forest to emerge before nightfall.

The Contraband Berries

Wild Huckleberry Crisp

6 c huckleberries (or blueberries)
1/3 c brown sugar (variable: adjust according to taste)
2 t. cornstarch
2 t. lemon juice
1/4 t. ginger
1/4 t. cardamom
1/4 t. cinnamon

1 c. rolled oats
2/3 c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar (again, adjust according to taste)
1/2 stick butter, cut into cubes
1/2 t. cardamom
1/4 t. ginger
dash salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In mixing bowl, combine berries with sugar, lemon juice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cornstarch. Gently pour into buttered baking dish.
Separately, mix together rolled oats, flour, brown sugar, cardamom, ginger and salt. Add butter and work together with fingers until crumbly.
Spoon mixture over berries.
Bake until top is golden, approximately 20-25 minutes. Let cool for another 10 minutes.
Serve with ice cream, which is nearly essential. (We used goat milk ice cream and it was splendid.)

  • Anonymous - Purchase these at grocery stores or abstain if not available. Bears need all the food they can get. I suggest volunteers organize and plant more berry, fruit and nut bushes and trees in bear territory to help these precious creatures survive. They have it tough enough as it is.
    Submitted by Karen V. Stefanini, Beautiful Back Bay, Boston, MAReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - Karen, while I understand where you're coming from, I respectfully disagree on some points.
    For one, huckleberries haven't been successfully cultivated, so what's found in grocery stores was picked in the wild anyhow.
    Additionally, most hikers can only pick a handful at a time. Most naturalists I spoke with (in Glacier National Park) were in favor of this, because it kept bears off the trail and minimized interaction with humans, which is ultimately best for the bears. Remember that they have miles and miles of inaccessible (to humans) huckleberry patches high on the mountain slopes.
    Where I am in California, there are neither black nor brown bears, so I'm really not compromising their food supply.
    I completely agree with you that bears have got it tough. And that huckleberry habitat has been depleted. But that is by commercial pickers, logging operations and commercial development. They are the people to target, not a measly old hiker like me who picks a couple handfuls a year. :)ReplyCancel

  • Mary Ann - Any ideas where to go in Puget Sound area?ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - Mary Ann,

    There is a great blog called Fat of the Land that has, I hope, something along the lines of what you're looking for:

    Good luck! Perhaps he can point you in the right direction.ReplyCancel

  • elizabeth - This looks really delicious.

    I love oatey crisps. I made something similar the other night with just flour and butter, but I missed the tooth of the oats. Now, oats in hand, I have a fantastic recipe. Huckleberries in NYC? I might have to improvise.ReplyCancel

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