Garden Huckleberries, an Unusual, Easy to Grow Fruit (plus a pie filling recipe)
The problem with growing your own fruit is that you often have to wait years after planting the trees and bushes to get a decent-sized harvest. Enter the garden huckleberry. Garden huckleberries are unique because they are annual plants. The berries are firm, shiny, black, and grow in clusters on bushes approximately the size of a tomato plant. (For my “way up north” readers in Alaska and Canada, think of big crowberries.) This isn’t the sweet wild berry popular in the Pacific Northwest that resembles a blueberry, but a completely different berry.
Growing them couldn’t be any easier. It’s not even necessary to start the seeds indoors, just plant the seeds right into the ground. It will begin producing mid-summer and yield an abundance of berries until frost.
You may have read (as I did) that this berry is a great substitute for blueberries and can be used the same way. Not even close. Make sure that the recipes are meant specifically for garden huckleberries. Tossing a handful of these into a batch of pancakes would result in mutiny at the breakfast table and you’d find yourself leading the charge.
It is absolutely essential that they be cooked–boiled, actually–and they need some added acidity, like lemon juice. When properly prepared, however, you may use huckleberry sauce as an ice cream topping, a layer of filling in a coffee cake, as well as the filling in a beautifully dark purple pie. Some say that a second round of cooking (baked into a coffee cake or pie, for example) makes the taste milder. It has a unique “wild” taste that may not be liked by everyone. We have mixed reviews on them around here. But if you’re adventurous, want to try something different, and have a little space in your garden, you should give them a try. You’ll get a lot for your bang.
Here’s the recipe that I use.
Garden Huckleberry Pie Filling
Servings: 4 pints
- 7 c. garden huckleberries
- 4 c. sugar
- 2/3 c. Clear Jel
- 1 t. grated lemon zest
- 4 T. lemon juice
- In a large saucepan, cover huckleberries with water and boil under tender. Drain water, and mash berries using a potato masher.
- In another large saucepan, combine sugar and Clear Jel. Whisk in 2 c. water. Bring to a boil and stir until mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Stir in zest, if using, and lemon juice and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Fold in the berries.
- Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1″ headspace. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes. Yields approximately 4 pints.
Want to order some garden huckleberries for this summer’s garden? Seed Savers carries the seeds that I use. (I’m not promoting, just sharing info!) You can find them here.