Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tails from the Back Seat: Huckleberry Hounds

Dateline:  September 2013
Locale:  Far North Idaho
Activity:  Huckleberrying (a verb in these parts)

                   Huckleberry, the state fruit of Idaho 

So, off we went for what we thought was a normal romp in the woods but John and Susan had other plans.  They said that we couldn't, in good conscience, call ourselves North Idahoan dogs unless we experienced the Zen of picking huckleberries.  Not sure what that meant, but we were game!  As we climbed the trail to over 3,800 feet in elevation, we found the purple paradise: shrubs about 4 feet in height laden with small purplish berries that gave off a heavenly aroma and squirted juice when we jostled them with our noses...yummmmm!

Now you see them...soon you won't!

Since the season was just getting started, we didn't realize that these plants would be found in literally every alpine area in the Idaho Panhandle, along with deluges of migrant pickers/campers who infiltrate the area during this time of year; boondocking spots were at a premium.  We also got used to seeing huckleberry-filled coolers bungee-corded to every flat surface of the pickers' well-worn cars barely drivable under their own weight on the local backwoods roads. 

The Huckleberries of Wrath
Huckleberry picking can be lucrative, so it's not without competition.  Berry pickers are paid as much as $40 per 5-gallon container so it's not unusual that some can be viciously territorial about their picking spots, as if they were the only people around to have discovered it and now it's theirs and theirs only and of course it's where the finest perfect berries grow so there's no way they are going to share their precious secret place with amateurs, especially dogs!  And then there are the greedy pickers who use specially-designed rakes to "rake in" their fortunes... really quite unfair to us non-dexterous creatures, and to John and Susan too, who seemed to spend hours picking with nominal results (we think they ate as much as they picked!).  And of course there are the bears.  Huckleberries are a necessity for the region's black bears and grizzlies so they can be expected anywhere the berries are ripe.  They have flexible "prehensile lips" that can pick individual huckleberries without ingesting leaves faster than a person can harvest them; too bad they aren't trainable like us! 

Our first pick:
 certainly not going to supplement our income!

We think he likes the beer label too!
Huckleberries look like blueberries
but are more dense in texture and more tart in flavor.  Eating them makes your face flush and tongue tingle with the tons of antioxidants that explode in your mouth; their medicinal properties are numerous. In World War II, some pilots claimed eating huckleberry jam improved their night vision and today they are used to treat and prevent various health issues such as diabetes and urinary tract infections. Good thing for John since his favorite use for huckleberries is Huckleberry Beer!

Prime picking season is August, but the season extends as late as October. Perhaps we will venture out again, it's not easy work, but the rewards are tasty!

"Sweet" Dreams......


  1. I just bought huckleberry items in Oregon for my souvenirs. Can't wait to try them.

    1. How do you manage to be in Hawaii and Oregon at the same time? That's a neat trick. :-)

  2. Your blog is loading very slowly. Perhaps the problem is on my end, but no other sites are loading slowly right now. Are you using high resolution photographs or something?

    Anyway, it was impossible to look at the photograph of those two dogs smiling, without smiling myself.

    1. Yeah, those two knuckleheads love to hike until they drop. We're working on the photos. I think we are using too high a resolution and that's why they take so long to load. We need to spend less time having fun and more time figuring out how to best use this Blogger thing! I have an email into Wandrin Lloyd asking for some advice.