Malcolm's Huckleberry Picking Tip Sheet!
Before you go huckleberry picking, here
are some additional tips, and some tools you will want to bring along -- in addition to the huckleberry
Make sure to get a hard body Playmate, not one of the soft body models (hmmm, that did not sound quite right...). I like a
7 quart model, as by the time I pick a gallon and a half, I want to go back to the vehicle and dump my berries
in a box, and get a cold drink, do a little braggin' etc. It also allows the huckleberries to start breathing,
as they will tend to "cook" just a bit in the Igloo.
However, if you are a hard core huckleberry picker, they do make models
in the 14 to 16 quart range (3 1/2 to 4 gallons)! They also make smaller versions, down to just right for a
six-pack with ice. You can use that for later, LOL, OR for the younger or smaller pickers on your crew, they might
want a carrier of their own, and this lets them feel involved.
The reason to outfit yourself this way, is that huckleberries usually
grow on rough - and often steep - ground with lots of vegetation, and it's easy to trip. If you are compiling your
berries in an open-top bucket or pail (with or without a handle) it's easy to fall and... I can't tell you how many
times I've turned the air blue after spilling bucket of beautiful wild, huckleberries on my way down a steep,
tangled hillside. If this happens to you JUST ONCE, the investment in one of the Igloo Playmates, is well worth it.
How to know when to dump into your Playmate? Rake until you start
getting some huckleberries that want to start rolling back out over the top of the inner divider as you are
raking... usually about half full, or 2-3 cups of berries. Grab the Igloo, open the top, turn the rake upside down,
and gently pour the huckleberries into the cooler. Close up the Igloo, and go back to picking. Even if the Igloo
falls over, your huckleberries are safe!
Below is a 20 second clip, with an experienced huckleberry picker,
pouring his huckleberry booty into a larger lockable Igloo cooler.
When your Igloo gets full, you can walk safely and confidently back to
the car. If you trip, NO HARM DONE! Your huckleberries (worth
their weight in gold), and your picking party's sensitive hearing, will not be damaged.
- Bring wide or long, shallow cardboard boxes, lined with newsprint,
or something similar, to hold the larger volumes of huckleberries until you get them to your kitchen or other
location for cleaning and/or freezing.
Many people think that putting the huckleberries directly over ice, or
in a closed, tight, cool container, is good idea. But, most huckleberries (at least, here in Idaho) are picked in
the hottest part of the summer, mid-July to mid-August, and those tasty little purple rounds are WARM! Sealing them
in something airtight for very long, or in direct contact with ice, or against any kind of plastic where they
cannot "breath", will cause them to BLEED PURPLE GOLD! And keeping leaves in with the berries, until you get to
your cleaning location, is a very good idea. The leaves act as insulation, and protection from smashing... and even
absorb a little moisture if you are picking in the rain, or in the moist morning dew.
Wild huckleberries will actually last several days in an open cardboard
box this way (although, you need to keep the boxes in cool shade... direct sunlight is also damaging to the quality
of the huckleberries, and will wrinkle them up quickly).
Always best to process for the freezer (or pies or jam) a few hours
after you get home, but if you leave them longer (and always in a cool part of the house), make sure to keep a
shotgun close in case neighbors, in-laws, or other varmits, try to make off with some. I have one friend who left
an open box for a couple days in his basement... and the mice got into them! I won't repeat or quote his actual
comments on the experience, in deference to your sensibilities.
HOW TO CLEAN WILD
- There are several methods of washing and cleaning huckleberries. Mostly you want to get out the leaves, a
few stems, and occasional insect that got caught up in your rake while you were flailing away (ooops, that is,
stroking easily and smoothly!). I usualy let the berries cool down a couple hours, then put them in a tall
bucket or mixing bowl, and run cool water, gently, over the top. Most of the leaves, bugs, and stems will rise
to the top with gentle agitation, and I just scoop out the undesirables, using my fingers much like a rake.
Then drain immediately.
I know other people use a sort of screening system, where they actually pour the berries down a chute or board,
with flat strips (e.g. popcicle sticks) in parallel rows attached at right angles to the board. Others use any kind
of flat, rough surface (e.g. sheet, or wire door screen material) with a slight angle... just enough for the
berries to roll, and the leaves and stem to stick. If you are using a cloth, make sure to keep it super taut.
Otherwise, as you roll the huckleberries, they will tend to congregate in the middle and form a paunch (kind of
The berries at the bottom of this kind of operation are pretty clean. (But may still need a "flush" treatment,
in my opinion!)
The fastest way to clean wild huckleberries, bar none, is a sort of combination of the above. You build a long
flat frame, with boards or plywood, 6 to 8 FEET long, and maybe two feet wide. Put up some side boards, as some of
those little round berries will fly off the sides if you do not. Cover the interior surface with newsprint, felt,
wood blanket, or other soft material with a slightly rough feel. Set the bottom of the frame in a wide bucket. (A
clean kitty litter box works pretty well... but put something soft in the bottom to reduce bouncing.)
Pour some handfulls of berries and leaves at the other end of the frame, then lift that end, until the
huckleberries roll easily, and the leaves do not. Brace with some kind of support, to keep that end of the frame
You will pour berries in bunches, running your fingers UPHILL, through any jams (excuse the pun) and you will
get lots of them. After a while you will get a rhythm. Periodically, you will need to pull off the cloth and shake
it, and perhaps turn it over. Not only does the material get most of the leaves and foreign materials, but will
absorb moisture, and some of the juice, that would otherwise make your berries sticky.
PS For the 2011 season, we will
offer a cleaning system like this one that you may
purchase, if you do not want to build your own. Register your email at www.WildHuckleberry.com if you
to be notified when the
cleaning system becomes available!
Typically, some of the larger leaves and stems are most likely to make the full downhill trip with the berries,
and these are easier to pull out by hand. But you will get some variety. Normally, you will run the berries down
the slide twice to get a really clean batch of beautiful huckleberries. Then you still might want to rinse them (or
not), depending upon what you plan to do with them.
Note: if you are selling berries to a commercial processor that buys by the pound, they may pay less for
"washed" huckleberries, under the assumption that part of the weight is now water. That might be true, but cleaner
is better in MY wild huckleberry goodies!! Huckleberry-Aphid Pie probably would not taste that well.
- I strongly recommend the "cookie sheet" method of freezing your huckleberries. Although the extra protein
THE COOKIE SHEET FREEZING METHOD!
Once the berries are clean, drained, and air dried a bit, pour them out thick- but not much more than one layer
- on cookie sheets and set them gently inside the freezer (you may need to arrange the frozen goods in the freezer,
so the trays can lay flat). Once the berries are frozen (does not take very long, overnight is plenty), scoop them
up, breaking apart any small clumps, into freezer bags -- usually one gallon size.
When you freeze them this way, it's easy to reach into the bag for any amount you want, from 4 cups for a pie,
to just a handful for sprinkling onto a sourdough pancake you just poured out on a griddle.
Note: This is kind of cool to watch, if you use frozen huckleberries in a pancake... you pour the batter onto
the hot griddle, then immediate spinkle the frozen berries around on the 'cake. After you turn them and cook the
other side, they may exhibit "craters" where the berries popped a little bit. I prefer the sprinkle method, over
mixing directly into the batter first, because you get a more even distribion of wild huckleberries in your
flapjack. Also, if you let frozen berries "melt" in the batter, the batter turns kind of purple. Which I do
sometimes just for variety;-).
I have some friends who swear the special "cookie sheet" treatment for freezing is not necessary, but when I
"horse trade" with them, their freezer bags of huckleberries are ALWAYS somewhat clumpy, and usually there's a
pocket or two of purple water, where there was drainage as the huckleberries solidified. Part of the reason is that
the huckleberries freeze MUCH faster spread out in the open on a metal sheet, rather than a big lump sealed in a
plastic bag, where the heat cannot escape. But do what works for you, based on your needs.
Now, back to the woods... imagine...
The moment has arrived, your first wild huckleberry picking outing of the year. You are ready, huckleberry rake
at your side. The cardboard boxes lined with newsprint (or other "breathable" material) are setting near the
vehicle, in the shade, where a protective security guard with a shotgun awaits the arrival of purple mountain booty
from you and any other pickers.
In one hand is your Igloo self-locking "lunch pail" cooler, and in the other, your lightweight, efficient,
huckleberry rake tool. You locate your point of attack for the first patch, set down down your Igloo in a
semi-flat spot, and lean into your prey...
You know the rest!
© 2010 - Malcolm Dell