Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Have you ever eaten a huckleberry?

A yummy little morsel related to the blueberry. Native to the mountains of the northwest United States, the huckleberry plant has defied all efforts at domestication and cannot be cultivated. It only exists in the wild mountains and forests. It is a favorite treat of Grizzly Bears and hikers.

I have always had family in Montana, so I have known of and have been eating huckleberries for longer than I can remember. But when I leave the area it becomes immediately apparent that the rest of the world knows little of this delicacy.

I can't remember my first huckleberry but I can point to several events in my life that has tightened my bond with them. Being coaxed up the trail as a child. "Lets look for huckleberries around the next bend." And then after a few huckleberries right off the bush I would be coaxed around another bend. In this manner I learned to climb mountains.

As a young teen I learned that when an attractive lady asks you to go pick huckleberries with her, you say "YES". This is also when I learned not to violate the integrity of another persons huckleberry bucket. Just because you are huckleberry picking with them does not mean that you are going to split the bounty equally. She who picks the most berries wins. And no, she is not going to drop this handful of berries into your bucket for convenience. She will clutch them in her hands through a quarter mile of thickets and brush before giving them up to the likes of you. To this day I believe that it's not love until you can share the huckleberries.

As a young man I had to decide just how much to risk for these little berries. A friend of mine had just blissfully and ignorantly walked a mere 15 feet from a grizzly bear in her quest for a better huckleberry bush. With the bear between her and us it took much jumping, shouting and pantomime to convince her to climb up and away from the bear she never saw. And then when the group was safely rejoined and we were moving away to safety we still stopped to grab a few huckleberries.

Among berries, the huckleberry is sublime. It could be described as similar to a blueberry, but that would be like describing a Lamborghini as similar to a Buick. It would be like comparing a high school art show to the Louvre. Like describing a Stradivarius as some old fiddle. The huckleberry is the prince of berries. If picked too soon it can be tart, but milder than a raspberry. If picked too late it can be sweet, but with a subtlety that no strawberry has ever known. At the perfect peak it puts out a hearty flavorfulness that blackberries dream about. And when you have picked a bucketful of these beauties, the medley sings in your mouth and makes you believe in world peace.

The current going rate is between $30 and $35 per gallon. That is why it is so hard to find a piece of pure huckleberry pie. Huckleberry pies cost a damn fortune. Most of the pies are huckleberry peach, or huckleberry raspberry, or huckleberry rhubarb. The only way to make a huckleberry pie affordable is to cut the berries with some other fruit.

There are several small businesses making a decent living by manufacturing huckleberry jam and huckleberry chocolate and huckleberry coffee and huckleberry jelly beans and so on. The Tillamook dairy over in Washington, which makes a pretty decent huckleberry ice cream, puts out a huckleberry yogurt. I saw it in the store the other day and of course I had to have it. At breakfast I dove for the fridge with eager spoon in hand. Just for the record, you can forget about the Tillamook huckleberry yogurt. They make the stuff with damn blueberries. They ain't foolin' anyone. I can taste the difference.

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My single scoop huckleberry ice cream cone eaten while standing in Lake McDonald on the last day in the Park was pure bliss.
I realize you posted this years and years ago, but as it showed up as one of the top results when I searched for Tillamook huckleberry ice cream, I could not resist being a horrible pedant.

Tillamook is in Oregon, not Washington. :)
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