Thursday, August 21, 2008

Huckleberry Season

Huckleberry season is upon us. I've been scouting known patches for quite some time, in the hopes of harvesting these luscious berries. Last year most of the blossoms froze, and the berries that did survive didn't flourish because of drought conditions. It was quite possibly the worst year ever for huckleberries in the history of Bear Lake Valley. Instead of my usual 15-20 pints in the freezer, I only found enough berries to fill one pint. Yes, I was extremely sad. So was my husband and our offspring, who love the huckleberry desserts I usually create for the holidays.

I was introduced to the great huckleberry tradition by my mother years ago. Sometime during the first two weeks of August, we would usually journey to her homeland of Wyoming to pick enough of these purple berries for tasty treats like pie, homemade ice cream, and oft times, pancakes. My maternal grandmother could create huckleberry delights that amazed us all, and her recipes are closely guarded secrets. Sometimes. Usually, I give them out to anyone who wants a copy, but don't tell my family. ;)

You can understand my excitement when I married into a family of huckleberry enthusiasts. That first summer, a few months after Kennon and I were married, marked the beginning of my education on where to find the elusive huckleberry in Bear Lake County. Here are some important rules regarding this fine tradition:

1) Never reveal where your huckleberry patch is located, unless you want to be disowned by the family. Most patches have been passed down from generation to generation. (I kid you not with regard to this information.)

2) Make lots of noise, since huckleberries are favorite treats of the local bear population. Noise tends to scare them away. I've often been tempted to borrow the neighbor's dog for just this purpose. =)

3) Wear clothes you don't mind ruining, since these berries tend to stain. They'll also stain your fingers, but purple is a lovely color, so I don't mind. ;)

4) Never spill your bucket. Not only is this shameful, but it causes tremendous grief to the one who has spent hours filling that bucket. (You earn every berry picked.)

5) Bring plenty of treats to snack on since berry picking adventures usually take a few hours. We also bring plenty of ice water and insect repellent.

6) Bring a bucket with a lid. I usually cut a small hole in the lid. This way you can drop the berries in and they don't spill out. Ice cream buckets work great for this.

7) Wear a hat in case the squirrels throw things at you while you pick berries from "their" patch.

Huckleberries only grow on mountain hillsides. Sometimes it takes quite a bit to reach their isolated location. I only know of one patch that is easily accessible. Most times we resort to using a 4-wheel drive vehicle to climb the steep dirt roads that lead to huckleberry patches. Other times, the berry patches can only be accessed by way of horse or a contraption known as a 4-wheeler. Earlier this week, my husband graciously drove a friend and I up to a huckleberry patch on his 4-wheeler. He dropped us off at the patch, then rode around the hillside exploring since he doesn't much enjoy picking the berries. By the end of the day, we were all happy. My friend and I had picked a lot of berries and my husband bonded with nature (ie: took a nap).

If you are extremely lucky and your berry patch is loaded, it doesn't take forever to fill a bucket. Here is what my friend was able to pick during the time we spent in a secret location I will never reveal:

Actually, I'm one of those who usually tells people how to get to the berry patches. Yes, I know, I'm breaking with tradition. =) If someone wants to go to all of the trouble to pick huckleberries (ie: this is a lot of work) I think they should know where to go to enjoy this pastime. Besides, my husband and I are the only family members still residing in Bear Lake Valley, so it's time to share this information. ;) This year, the bushes are loaded, so people who really want berries will go home with a bucket full.

As an insulin dependent diabetic, I've had a few adventures during huckleberry season. One year, after we had spent a couple of hours picking, I felt rather yucky. Thinking my blood sugar level had dropped drastically, I ran a quick check with my blood sugar meter. To my surprise, it flashed a number in the high 500's. (Normal range is 80-120.) Panicking, I gave a large dose of insulin, via my insulin pump. A few minutes later, I felt worse. So I ran another check. This time the meter flashed a number in the 30's---which is extremely low. That's when it occurred to me that the first check wasn't valid---the first finger I had poked for a blood sample had been covered in huckleberry juice. Evidently, those berries contain a lot of natural sugar. =) As you may have guessed, I did survive that episode. My husband made me eat an entire package of cookies as he drove us down the mountain, fearing he would have to take me into ER. I didn't have to visit the hospital that night---by the time we reached our house, my blood sugar level was fine. But I will never be able to eat that particular cookie ever again. ;)

This month I've enjoyed berry picking adventures four times during the past 2 weeks. If the berries continue, I may go one more time, just for kicks and giggles . . . and delicious desserts. And if any of you would like my grandmother's recipe for huckleberry pie, let me know. Just don't ever tell her that I shared this prize-winning creation. If you do, she may want to have a little chat with me on the other side of the veil for sharing a family secret.

Return to the Neighborhood


Anne Bradshaw said...

Cheri--I just have to let you know about a GREAT new and safe LDS website for sisters only, called "Our Ladies Room" at

Lots of super ladies on there already, and plenty of groups and forums to join and discuss a ton of issues.

Hope to see you there!

Oh, and I have a book contest running on my blog again, in case you want to check it out :-)

Cindy Beck said...

Ooo, I love berries and am certain that if I lived near you, we'd go berry-picking all the time!

Can totally relate to your crash and burn with your blood sugar (my husband is diabetic), but who would have suspected the berry juice would have caused that high reading?! Glad you didn't end up in the hospital.

Thanks for the great story ... it was almost as good as being there and enjoying the berries! :)

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Anne, I appreciate the heads up. I actually joined the "Ladies Room" social network a little while ago. But I will be sure to check out the forum groups it now offers, as well as your contest. =)

Cindy, I'm sorry your husband is a member of the "Diabetic Club." =) I was diagnosed as a Type 1 about 27 years ago. =) True character building moments. And I would love to go berry picking with you sometime. ;) Let me know if you're ever up this way around the first part of August.

Doran & Jody said...

I promise I won't tell about the huckleberry pie recipe. Since I don't bake much I will just come and buy a pie from you next time I come up.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Tell you what, Jody---I'll make one for free and we'll enjoy it as we visit. =)

Kari Olsen said...

Where is a good place to search for huckleberries around bear lake? Picking is a family tradition back in northern Idaho but I am new to the bear lake area.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Kari. Sorry I'm so late in responding to your comment. This past month has indeed been a blur. The huckleberries were not great this year in Bear Lake. We tried every patch we know and they were very spotty. I suspect the dry conditions mingled with the frosts took their toll. A good place to search on years when these plants produce is Copenhagen Basin. They are found down below the makeshift campground, and up above on the little windy dirt road. I did hear that the chokecherries were good this year. There might be a few of those around still. Someone told me that they picked quite a few up Montpelier Canyon, just alongside the road as you enter the canyon. Hope this helps. ;)