Yes, it’s huckleberry season again.
One of our most memorable family foraging experiences was learning to pick wild huckleberries at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon. Led by one of the park’s knowledgeable rangers on a late August morning, we were shown how to identify and pick the small evergreen huckleberries that grow abundantly and were at their peak of perfection.
Armed with milk jugs and cans, we began plucking the small bluish/purple berries from the plants. The berries are very small, so we picked for at least an hour and then noticed that our jugs were barely full!
Nonetheless, the next day we used those petite berries in some campfire pancakes. It’s easy to do. Once your griddle (preferably cast-iron) is sufficiently heated, ladle pancake batter onto the surface and sprinkle some huckleberries on top. Watching carefully so as not to burn the breakfast, flip the pancakes and dish them up family style at the picnic table.
We served ours with a little extra huckleberry sauce that had been cooking in a pan over the campfire with a touch of sugar and water. Simply swirl the berries and mash once or twice while cooking in order to release color and juices.
Without a doubt, this was one of my children’s most memorable campfire meals. Keep in mind that huckleberries freeze beautifully for the winter and work really well in muffins, scones and other baked goods, too.
According to Dane Osis, a ranger at Fort Stevens State Park, there are 2 main types of huckleberries on the Oregon Coast—Evergreen and Red. The Evergreen berries have a blue/purple berry and are similar to a blueberry. The Red Huckleberry is tart. A third type, the Black Huckleberry, grows at higher elevations in the Cascade Range and is coveted by both recreational and commercial pickers.
If you are interested in gathering wild huckleberries throughout the Pacific Northwest (including Alaska, Montana and Idaho) this August and September, here are a few tips and resources for doing so:
Where to find them: Huckleberries can be found in Northwest coastal and subalpine areas with abundant sunshine (blueberries, a closely related plant, has a much wider distribution in North America). Many clearcut areas have berries, but note that many prime locations get picked quickly. Ask a forest or park ranger for suggestions on trails where you can find them, or use the resources below.
When to pick them: Huckleberries reach their peak in mid-August and September.
Picking tips: Both birds and bears love to gorge on these berries, too. So, make noise and be bear aware while foraging and picking. Don’t overpick; leave plenty behind for the local wildlife.
- Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest has a wonderful huckleberry page that offers tips for picking and includes historical information and insights on the cultural uses of this wild resource.
- The Washington Trails Association’s huckleberry hikes resource offers basic information and tips for gathering, plus a trips report section where you can run an advanced search on huckleberries and hiking in the region.
The Big Huckleberry Survey 2012: Are you a huckleberry picker in the state of Washington? Please help local researchers by taking the Big Huckleberry Survey conducted by the University of Washington.
What are your most memorable huckleberry picking experiences?
Huckleberry pancakes photo by Melissa Trainer; huckleberry plant photo courtesy of Glacier National Park/NPS staff.