Huckleberry season has arrived in Montana and we’ve been busy foraging and preserving huckleberries! Every year in late July, we head up to our secret huckleberry picking spot way up in the mountains. We’ve been going to the same spot for over seven years so picking huckleberries has become a family tradition every summer. This huckleberry patch covers the mountainside for as far as the eye can see. It is off the beaten path so we rarely see anyone else up there. We made our first trip up there this week and discovered the huckleberries are ripe and ready to harvest.
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Once you become familiar with what huckleberry plants look like, it is easy to spot them in the forest. If you’re new to foraging for huckleberries and aren’t quite sure what to look for, I highly recommend this book. It is my favorite book to use when foraging for wild edibles in the Rocky Mountains.
We’ve seen quite a few other huckleberry patches on our adventures out in the mountains. None of them compare to the size of our secret huckleberry patch so we keep going back to the same spot. As we were driving up the dirt road that snaked around the mountain, we spied quite a few huckleberry bushes on the steep hillsides around us. The huckleberry bushes are all hanging full of big, juicy, purple berries that taste so delicious!
Foraging For Huckleberries
In the past, we just picked huckleberries by hand. We used these homemade berry picking buckets that worked great. They are made out of plastic one gallon juice or vinegar containers cut off at the top. We made a slit in the plastic sides and tied a long piece of hemp cord to each side to create a strap. These homemade berry picking buckets work great to free up both hands for picking.
Last year I read about a huckleberry rake that didn’t destroy the plants. I bought this one to try it out. Once I got the hang of how to use it, it worked amazing! I was able to harvest three to four times the amount of huckleberries than when I was hand picking. Since it worked so great, we bought another one this winter so my husband now has one too. We both used our huckleberry rakes this year and were blown away at how many huckleberries we harvested compared to hand picking!
Last year Little A wasn’t quite two years old during huckleberry harvest so she spent some of the time in a backpack on our backs. This year she is almost three and insisted on bringing her own bucket. We figured she would just sit and eat huckleberries the whole time, but she was determined to save some in her little bucket. Although she ate her fair share of huckleberries on the mountain, there were some in her bucket that she saved for her breakfast the next morning!
To clean the huckleberries, I pour them into a large bowl and cover them with water. The leaves and stems float to the top. This makes it easy to scoop them off the top with my hands and put them in the pile to be composted. Once the leaves and sticks have been removed from the water, look for any green unripe berries to remove.
Once the bowl is cleaned of most of the debris, I pick up a handful of huckleberries and place them in a colander to drain. By scooping one handful at a time, I can quickly catch any huckleberries that may have a stem still attached that needs to be removed. Once all the huckleberries have been placed in the colander, let them sit to drain and dry out.
The easiest way to preserve huckleberries is to freeze them. I’ve tried a couple different techniques over the years and found the simple easy way has worked the best. One method people use is to lay the berries on a cookie sheet, freeze them, then pack them into bags. When I tried this, it took a lot of extra work and wasn’t really necessary.
Instead. after I clean the huckleberries and let them dry in the colander, I pack them directly into zip close plastic bags. I pack two cups in each bag and use the DIY method of vacuum sealing I mentioned in this post. Packing the huckleberries into bags this way without pre-freezing them on a cookie sheet is quick and easy. We never have issues with the huckleberries sticking together doing it this way. We also don’t have any issues with the huckleberries getting freezer burnt since we let them dry out before being packed into bags.
Once packed and sealed, I lay the plastic bags flat in the freezer for storage. When we want to get huckleberries out to eat, we open the bag and pull out as many as we need and refreeze the bag if there are any huckleberries left. We use the huckleberries all winter to add to pancakes, fruit crisps, smoothies, and yogurt.
I’m so excited that huckleberry season has arrived, it is the highlight of our summer every year. We’ll be heading back to our secret patch a couple more times this season to continue foraging and preserving huckleberries to feast on all winter long!
Do you forage for huckleberries? What are your favorite ways to eat huckleberries?