8:30 a.m. (local) Aug. 13
SANDPOINT, IDAHO---Huckleberries can be an unbearable obsession.
On Sunday morning I found myself picking huckleberries at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, 4,700 feet up into the northern Idaho sky from Sandpoint (pop, 6,835). I’ve never picked berries before. I love blackberries, blueberries and Chuck Berry, but I’ve always kept my distance.
About a mile east along the GRR (like a mad bear) Trail my tour guide Patrick Sande found a hot patch with dozens of huckleberries. I crouched over and picked each purple berry off its branch and dropped it into a clear plastic water bottle. We did this for a couple of hours. This is what they must mean by “Slow Food.” I am now bringing home 24 ounces of ripe huckleberries. That’s enough to make Huckleberry Cream Pie with a Graham Cracker crust....
As we picked huckleberries, Patrick told me about pop bands like Architecture In Helsinki.
I felt like Henry Fonda in “On Golden Pond.”
I also wanted to see a bear. Patrick said big black bears wander around this mountain. Bears have a much stronger sense of smell than humans and they pick up on the tart smell of huckleberries. Bears sustain on huckleberries and some locals don’t think its kosher for people like me to go pick their food. After all I wouldn’t want to see a bear walk into the Matchbox, sit down and drink my Cazadores.
We ate the huckleberries we did not pick. The huckleberry is sweeter than the blueberry, which I also like. But huckleberries are more difficult to pick because they grow in singles, along the stem. Blueberries grow in bunches. I liked the huckleberry so much it became my muse for the rest of the day.
I had lunch at the New Orleans influenced Cafe Trinity in downtown Sandpoint and ordered huckleberry vinagrette with my salad. I went to an art fair and had a huckleberry lemonade. I did an interview at the Edgewater Resort along Lake Pend d’ Oreille (hanging from ear) and had a huckleberry lemondade that was more zesty than the art fair concotion.
I did. I attended a wine tasting at the 25th Annual Festival at Sandpoint at Memorial Field. I had white wine with natural huckleberry juice from the Pend d’ Oreille winery in downtown Sandpoint (www.powine.com). I chased that down with tasty huckleberry cheesecake from North Idaho Fish and Chips. I found the Litehouse Bleu Cheese Factory (www.litehousefoods.com) in downtown Sandpoint where I bought huckleberry incense, huckleberry popcorn and natural huckleberry lip balm. I would have purchased some huckleberry jam, but the terrorists have won so its too high a risk to try to bring a sealed jar of huckleberry jam through an airport back to Chicago.
Huckleberry picking season generally runs from August through September, so the local Arby’s was serving huckleberry shakes. Prime huckleberries are found in partly shaded areas along inclines at elevations higher than 3,500 feet. which is why my legs seemed to have the shakes atop the mountain. Its best to pick huckleberries uphill, heading towards the top of a slippery slope. The Schweitzer Mountain Resort hosts a Huckleberry Festival on Aug. 18.[www.schweitzer.com.] I don’t know if they plan a Mark Twain angle, but I would suggest Huckleberry Finn lookalike competiton.
Asta Bowen’s “The Huckleberry Book” [American Geographic Publishing] became a fine companion piece I purchased for $9.95 at the Corner Book Store in downtown Sandpoint. The book justifies all that is huckleberry, has a chapter on 'Woods Wisdom' and recipes for Mildred’s Huckleberry Chocolate, Huckleberry Fritters and Spiced Huckleberry Peach Jam.
Bowen writes, “The huckleberry is a wildness in your hand, a mountain summer you can savor in the dark of a winter morning.....What is wild has its secrets, and this is true of huckleberries. What is wild does not announce itself on television or hire important people to give it identity; what is wild has identity to spare....” You recognize that you will never be let down when you are picking a huckleberry on an August mountain in Northern Idaho.