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The Huckleberry: Montana’s New State Fruit



Huckleberry Bush

Overview

Somewhere in the Northwest, east of Washington, you crest into Idaho and then over into Montana around 3,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. Looking upward along the steep slopes you might see the berry-loving grizzlies and black bears stocking up for winter. Along with the bears are native Montanans, foragers at heart, picking three to five gallons a day to sell to local bakeries and restaurants, making some of the best cobblers and jams on the planet. May 10, 2023, has been a particularly special year for the Montana Huckleberry; Governor Greg Gianforte celebrated House Bill 880, calling Vaccinium Membranaceum, their official state fruit.



Glacier Montana

The Huckleberry

The Evergreen Huckleberry, or Western Huckleberry, is close cousins with the blueberry. It thrives in the shade, growing as tall as 4 meters, and becomes a habitat for small critters and birds seeking shelter from the wind. Its oval-shaped foliage and reddish berries are a food source for other forest creatures about 5000 feet up. Wild-dug huckleberries do not adapt well to transplanting into domestic landscapes.


Some agree that the wild huckleberry is a much sweeter version of its cousin, the blueberry. Native Americans picked roughly 30,000 pounds, adding them to venison stew and other dishes. If the forests became too thick with brush, they burned areas of the mountain floors to create ecological succession. A way to allow the huckleberries to volunteer in a new sunny location and thrive.



Foraging


The Faces of Huckleberry Foragers

As you begin to sort out your foraging plans on the hills of Montana, you need the necessary supplies and gear to weather the dangers of black bears, grizzlies, and mountain lions. Better known as The Pickers, make a hobby of the berry picking season. The lucrative off-the-books side hustle needs to be planned meticulously. Check with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or State Forest Office to confirm their guidelines on maximum personal use permits. Competition with other pickers is real, and some foragers claim their stakes in early July, by camping near the bush for over two weeks to ensure their stake in the Huckleberry. The foragers have commitments to their buyers, some seeking berries for distilled goods, and others seeking the luscious sweetness for baked products and syrups. Picking totally by hand, the foragers spend 3 months running up and down the Glacial mountains of Montana. Supporting the locals who have created economies off the foraging and distilling.





Wrapping It Up!

When thinking about my state fruit, I jump on Pinterest to source new recipes in the spirit of next year's harvest. Cheers!




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