To harvest Red Huckleberry, the local indigenous peoples used to craft combs of cedar, fashioned after the claws of a bear. The combs were raked through the airy shrubs, and the small red berries would fall into the cedarbark baskets placed on the ground beneath the shrubs. This sounds very efficient; but I do not have the time to painstakingly carve fake bear claws and besides, I am still nursing a self-inflicted wound suffered on my current woodworking project. Therefore I must rely on the nimble little fingers of my child labor force, and take cruel advantage of her I-won’t-always-be-seven enthusiasm for Things Mommy and Daddy Say Are Fun.
Last summer, the three Red Huckleberry plants on my property bore about a cup and a half of useful berries (the berries are tiny). This season, the berry crop is looking a little thin, so either it isn’t a good huckleberry year or my local Black Bear Family is augmenting its knock-my-garbage-cans-over-twice-a-week buffet with my berries. So Sunday the family–my wife, daughter, and I–trooped a couple hundred yards down the street to the Preserve to purloin public huckleberries. My family loves those brisk October weekends where we rake leaves, listen to football on the radio, and smell the delicious stew-y, roast-y, bake-y smells emanating from the kitchen. So it didn’t feel at all out of place to go for a walk in the misty, 44-degree woods to forage up some food…except it is July.
Red Huckleberry is a graceful, ethereal shrub with small green leaves on branches held
mostly horizontally above single woody stems. When in full fruit it lights up the forest floor. I have seen it very occasionally in nurseries and would LOVE to have more, except that in the wild the plant requires decaying red cedar in the soil to culture properly. Since it takes a v-e-r-y long time for cedar to decay, and I only have rotting cedar in three locations on my property, and that is where my three Red Huckleberry shrubs are already growing, no more Red Huckleberry for me.
About 45 minutes later, we had about a cup and a half of the miniscule fruits, plus a stem of some type of water lily my daughter asked me to get for her; for some reason, probably because I love her, I agreed to shimmy out into the lake on a fallen log using a low-hanging cedar branch for balance, and pick it for her, and because we were now as cold and sniffly as three people can be in late July at roughly sea level in North America, I was very happy to have not fallen in.
My father refuses to ‘waste his time’ fishing in the Puget Sound these days, because he doesn’t think there are any salmon around here anymore and because when you are eighty years old and spend all of your old-retired-guy time doing, um, I dunno what, floating around the San Juan Islands in a really cool boat during the summer would suck, I guess. So he goes to Alaska a couple times a year and catches about as many fish as I hear people catch around here, but they vacuum seal and freeze it, and sometimes I get free delicious fish.
Red Huckleberry tastes similar to cranberry, tart and a bit citrus-y, but also with an appealing herbal–almost grassy–note on the finish, and Red Huckleberry looooves salmon. I wish I could give a proper recipe, but I’ve been grilling salmon since I was 14, and all I can tell you is it’s a ‘touch’ thing– and my wife made up the sauce on the fly:
Soak a food-grade cedar plank overnight. You can get these at Costco. Don’t bother with wine or herbs in the soaking water–it’s just gonna taste like cedar, and why waste wine?
Over medium heat, macerate your Red Huckleberries with a little
sweetener (my wife has used raw sugar, and agave syrup, but regular ol’ sugar is fine) and a little lemon or orange juice and zest. When the ‘body’ of the berries is reduced by about half or so, remove from the heat and allow the berries to finish ‘saucing’ off the burner. After they cool, refrigerate for about an hour to allow the pectins in the fruit to tighten up a bit. This will make your sauce less likely to run off your fish and onto your plank.
Salt and pepper a salmon FILET (Don’t use salmon steaks. Everyone hates fish bones, filets minimize this for them in advance) to taste. Make sure you have a big enough piece of fish so that everyone will get seconds and I will get thirds.
Drain your plank and put your fish on it skin side down. If you skinned your filet you
have too much free time. Place the plank on medium-indirect coals, if you’re man enough, or over medium-high flame if you are using your city grill. About 2 minutes before your fish is done, spoon the Red Huckleberry sauce over the fish and finish. This is going to glaze up your sauce. When the salmon is done, and I like mine just beyond the ‘wet done’ I usually get at restaurants, dot the hot fish with butter and spoon on the rest of the sauce. Serve with a fine Oregon Pinot Noir, because not enough people know that salmon goes nicely with a red wine, and get out of the way, ’cause I’m eating. Don’t re-use your fishy and half-burned plank; just get another one at Costco already! but take the plank to the dumpster at work because salmon and Red Huckleberry together are pure bearoin.
We had friends over for dinner that night, and we made for them this very Northwest-y meal, because they are moving to San Diego. Probably because it does not feel like late October there in July. The water lily made a lovely centerpiece, floating in a glass bowl on the table. Thanks to Corene for the sauce and sauce and fish photos, and to my daughter for, well, everything.