When we moved to Montana more than 30 years ago, there was a lot of talk by our neighbors about huckleberries. What sort of crop might be expected this year? What would they make with their fruit? These precious mountain jewels reach their glory in July and August. And although they belong to the same genus, Vaccinium, as blueberries, their tangy, lingering taste sets them apart.
Found only in the western Rocky Mountain areas of Montana and Idaho, it takes up to 15 years for a wild huckleberry bush to mature. Huckleberries do grow elsewhere (Washington and Oregon, for example), but as far as we Montanans are concerned, ours are the only true ones. Wild Maine blueberries come awfully close in flavor, so feel free to substitute them.
Several Hmong families from Laos have become expert huckleberry harvesters, and they sell the fresh berries at our local farmers’ market. So that’s how we buy them now. No more plunk, plunk, plunk into our buckets. I just pick up a bag and then go home to bake this pie.
By Greg Patent, a food writer and chef in Missoula, Mont.