My Huckleberry Friend

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BY ELLEN JACKSON
PHOTOS BY STEVEN JACKSON

ESEA

Huckleberry picking in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Huckleberry picking in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, chances are your “experience” with huckleberries has been limited to pop culture: Huckleberry Hound of cartoon fame; “I’m your huckleberry,” a 19th century slang phrase made famous by Doc Holliday; Mark Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn, first introduced in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”; and “my huckleberry friend” from the lyrics of “Moon River” as sung by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Huckleberries also make a darn good pie.

Abundant and available mostly in the wild, huckleberries are largely interchangeable in western North America with the bilberry, whortleberry, and blueberry. Smaller, darker, and more intensely flavored than a blueberry, they’re like a cross between a blueberry and a black currant, with small seeds that give each berry a pleasing crunch.

Historically, the huckleberry crop has been — and continues to be — important to hunter-gatherers and native North Americans, who rely on indigenous foods for sustenance and survival. Huckleberries are enjoyed fresh in late summer and early fall and in dried form the rest of the year.

The musky, sweet-tart berries have been harvested commercially from the wild in the Pacific Northwest for more than a century and, because attempts to cultivate them have not been successful, huckleberries now represent a dwindling resource — not to the point of extinction, but the challenge to maintain a healthy balance of the fruit, between bears and pickers (commercial and recreational), is ever present. Foragers and herbalists observe certain rules so that resources are not damaged or depleted. And so should we. We should not pluck every last huckleberry from the bush.

Huckleberries are best found on alpine slopes between 4,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, from late August through early October. But, depending on the year and weather, you needn’t comb forest trails for the prized wild berry. It’s acceptable to track down and gather them at your local farmers market, too. Then take them home and make a trifle.

A recipe with a number of moving parts may seem daunting; this one’s anything but. Put the components of this trifle together over several days and assemble it the day before you serve it for optimal texture and flavor. If you made a pie instead, I’m sure no one would complain.

Ellen Jackson is a cookbook author, food writer and stylist, and recipe developer. In addition to having a deep knowledge of regional food products, growers, suppliers, and organizations dedicated to the celebration of food, Ellen is passionate about the importance of cooking and eating seasonally, embracing sustainability, and protecting local and global biodiversity. Learn more at foodprintstyle.com.

HONEYED HUCKLEBERRY TRIFLE WITH MASCARPONE AND ROSEMARY

Despite its name — with its alternate meaning of having little value — trifle is a dessert that delights the eye and the mouth. Constructed by layering cake, cream, and bright fresh fruit, trifle is dramatic and striking, ideally suited as the conclusion to any festive meal. A traditional, layered English sweet, trifle has come to mean different things to different cooks. Not only is it infinitely customizable, it’s a smart way to celebrate a small amount of a precious ingredient like huckleberries.

Whether you add a handful of cornmeal to the cakey layer for crunch, as I do, or reimagine the pastry cream as a rich and luxurious whipped mascarpone, there is only one hard and fast rule around building a trifle: Use the very best-tasting, ripe fruit in season. And since every season offers its own bounty, let your imagination guide you and grace your table with trifles throughout the calendar year.

Makes 6 to 8 individual trifles, depending on size

ESEACornmeal sponge cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal or corn flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups superfine granulated sugar, divided
2 1/2 ounces boiling water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 13-by-18-inch baking sheet with sides with parchment paper. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks with 1 cup of the sugar on high speed until the mixture is thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly add the boiling water and vanilla. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula, return to high speed and continue whipping for about 5 minutes or until very thick and ribbony.

Using a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the yolks and sugar and then transfer to the bowl that held the sifted dry ingredients. Wash and thoroughly dry the mixer bowl and whisk attachment.

Put the egg whites in the clean, dry mixer bowl and whip on high speed until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Fold half of the whites into the batter, followed by the remaining half. Evenly spread the batter on the lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. The cake will spring back when lightly touched.

Honeyed huckleberries

4 cups huckleberries, washed and cleaned
1 cup mild-flavored honey
2 sprigs rosemary
2 tablespoons huckleberry liqueur, such as Stein Distillery Huckleberry Cordial or cassis
pinch of salt

Put the huckleberries in a stainless steel bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the honey and rosemary sprigs to a boil over medium heat. When large bubbles begin to form on the surface of the honey, remove the pan from the heat and pour immediately over the berries. Add the liqueur and a small pinch of salt, and set the pan aside to cool completely. Remove the rosemary sprigs when the flavor is to your liking; it should be subtle.

Mascarpone cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar

Place the cream, mascarpone, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin mixing on medium-low speed, gradually increasing the speed to medium high. When the mixture resembles softly whipped cream, transfer it to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the trifle.

Sugared rosemary sprigs

3/4 cup superfine granulated sugar, divided
6 to 8 sprigs young rosemary

Put 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan with 5 tablespoons of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. When the syrup is no longer warm to the touch, hold the stem end of the rosemary sprig and fully immerse each sprig in the syrup. Shake off any excess syrup, place the sprig on a piece of parchment paper, and repeat with the remaining stems.

Beginning with the first stem, dredge it in the bowl of sugar, coating each of the leaves until they are uniformly sparkly.

Assemble the trifle: Place a piece of cake, cut to fit your serving dish(es), in the bottom of the dish. Cover the cake with a spoonful of huckleberries and their juice. Top with a spoonful of mascarpone cream followed by another piece of cake. Press down lightly on the cake and repeat, beginning with a spoonful of huckleberries and juice. For the final layer, top with a spoonful of cream and garnish with a sugared rosemary sprig.

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