Wild About - Huckleberries

I used to believe that huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) were something that only grew north of my area. When I visit Montana, there is a huckleberry product on every corner - huckleberry jam, pie, bread, you name it. When I started educating myself about the local flora, I discovered that huckleberries indeed grow in my area. Not only do they grow here, but are abundant in many areas of the mountains. They are the ankle-high pale green plants that have been at my feet for nearly every hiking trip I've ever taken in my life.

Last week, I headed up a mountain with my step dad, who wanted to look for porcini (Boletus edulis) mushrooms with me. We decided to start high, and work our way down. Strangely, just below timberline was a protected pocket, where the ground was holding enough good moisture for moss and small ferns, and it hadn't yet taken a hard freeze.

We didn't find the porcinis we were looking for, so my eyes started to search for other forage.  At our feet were a carpet of huckleberry plants.  We knelt down and searched under the toothed leaves for berries.  The huckleberries that grow here are tiny, smaller than pencil erasers, and are often hidden beneath leaves.

If you're familiar with how wild mountain strawberries can pack 10 times more flavor into a berry smaller than the tip of your finger than a commercial berry, then you'll understand the way in which a huckleberry packs a concentrated flavor punch like intense blueberries.  I've never collected enough to be more than a trail snack. But they are one of my favorite flavors, and well-worth the labor it takes to pick them.

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