Photography And Half-Thoughts By Mitchell Hegman

...because some of it is pretty and some of it is not.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Huckleberry Taste Test

I am a finicky eater.
Somehow, that is an understatement.
The list of what I do not like to eat is long and varied.  Sometimes, the texture of foods will bother me.  Think the skin of peaches here.  I find both the color and texture of guacamole too much for me.  I cannot abide the taste of mustard or green peppers.  I would just as soon kick a cantaloupe as eat one.
And I am just getting started here.
I am further picky by category and sub-category in the foods that I do like.  For example, I love white nectarines, but will not eat regular red ones.  I have even gone so far as to develop a finicky attitude about huckleberries.  And I love, love, love huckleberries.  I can smell the powerful aroma of huckleberries and taste them just by writing these words.
As a point of fact, there are several species of Vaccinium (huckleberry) growing in Montana.  Peter Stickney, a huckleberry expert from the University of Montana, has identified seven species here.  They all vary in flavor to some degree.
I am not savvy enough to know what species I am picking.  But I know what I like.   For the sake of ease, I will divide the berries I pick by color: red, white, and blue.  American-flaggy-like.  For all I know they may be from the same species.
I like all huckleberries.  Let me assure you that.  But I love that certain big flavor of some huckleberries.  The flavor I am talking about gives you the same feeling that you might get seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, or landing your first backflip on snow skis. The flavor is that big, that exceptional.  The flavor is easily as complex as that of a fine wine.  A perfect mix of bite and sweet finish.
I taste-test berries from most of the bushes I consider picking—always seeking the big flavor.  Most of the bushes I find display either berries that are bluish in color or a deep red.  By a large margin, the bluish huckleberries tend to better satisfy my sensibilities.  They have a sweeter finish.  During an off year of production, I will pick almost any berry.  But if berries are plentiful, I taste-test almost every bush and pick only those I really like.
And then there is the rare white huckleberry.  These berries are pink to almost white in color.  I have only found them three times in all my years.  I discovered them only in small patches.  The first time I found some, I thought they were some form of grossly immature berry.
I gave them a taste test.
Perfectly sweet at the start, through the middle, then a huckleberry finish!  The best flavor in the world!  I picked all that I found with my berry-stained fingers.  After much research I found only a couple of short articles on the internet that mentioned them.  The Moby Dick of huckleberries.
I have not tasted a white huckleberry in the last eight years.  But I am always seeking them, scouring the rugged mountainsides, swimming through the thick brush.  They are out there.
Part of the allure for huckleberries is that they can difficult to obtain.  To date no one has been able to cultivate them commercially.  They are found only in the wild.  Huckleberries are nearly as finicky as me.  They require a certain mix of sun and shade, of moisture.  In the moist reaches of the Pacific Northwest they thrive in open areas.  They prefer acidic soil—often found in the ashy soils following fires.
Finicky from beginning to end.

--Mitchell Hegman


  1. Wow! I didn't know that there are white huckleberrioes. Thanks for all that info and gusto! You could do a coffee table book on huckleberries. With your photos of course!

  2. Thanks, Ariel. I meant to post a photo on this one, but got tangled in edits.

  3. Maybe you can still post a photo on your FB page. Would be nice to see a white huckleberry, even if only virtually.