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.
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
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.)