A friend of mine in Washington State recently posted a picture of huckleberries she had picked. Now those of you who don’t live in the West may not even know what huckleberries are. You’ve heard of Huckleberry Finn, but did you ever wonder where the Huckleberry in his name came from?
(Actually, a little research indicates that some huckleberry varieties grow in the East also, but I will take a parochial attitude in this post and tell you that they can’t possibly be as good as western huckleberries.)
Huckleberries look like blueberries, but are smaller. And sweeter, in my opinion. And purple through and through. They are highly sought after by discerning humans and bears.
Huckleberries have not been domesticated, but have been picked in the wild from time immemorial until today. They are rampant in the hills around Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho.
One of our favorite activities on summer vacations at Coeur d’Alene was to boat from our cabin to Rockford Bay, where there was a little restaurant that served huckleberry pie. One teenager would waterski from the cabin until we reached the Bay. Then we’d stop, collect the skier, dock the boat, and traipse into the restaurant to order pie.
Some people liked it with ice cream. I typically just savored the sweet berries and flaky crust.
Today, when I visit Washington or Idaho or Montana, I eat huckleberry ice cream or milkshakes . . . or pie, when I can find it. And I try to bring home huckleberry jam or syrup.
When we summered in Idaho, we sometimes picked our own huckleberries, though that was a lot of work.
One summer day, my mother and I and the brother right behind me in age picked huckleberries. My sister was probably picking, too, though she was not quite five at the time, and I don’t remember her contributing many berries.
My baby brother, who was not yet two, was left on a blanket within sight. He was told to stay on the blanket. My recollection is that he mostly complied.
He mostly complied, because he had an incentive to stay on the blanket—the pickers dumped their full bowls of huckleberries into a large container that sat on the blanket beside him.
Baby brother wore a little yellow windbreaker to protect him from the cool mountain air. The jacket was probably a hand-me-down from my sister. I only remember it was yellow, because it didn’t stay yellow.
Baby brother got into the huckleberries stored in the large container on the blanket and ate his fill. Purple huckleberry juice stained the yellow windbreaker beyond repair.
That’s the picture I wish I had—the baby covered in huckleberry juice.
What picture do you wish you had?