Our first stop when we entered Montana was a Couchsurfing stay in Billings, the largest city in the state and the largest metropolitan area in a 500 mile distance.
Our hosts were fantastic, but more importantly, they informed us about the food find in Big Sky Country. Apparently huckleberries are the item to try when you’re in Montana. We unfortunately didn’t get to try the strongly recommended Huckleberry Margarita, but we did give the fruit a try in a few other ways.
What Exactly Is A Huckleberry?
We’d heard of huckleberries before heading into Montana (and beyond just Huckleberry Finn!), but neither of us had ever seen or tried them. In fact, we weren’t exactly sure what they were. In case you’re in the same boat, here’s what the all-knowing Wikipedia had to say:
Huckleberry is a name used in North America for several plants in the family Ericaceae, in two closely related genera: Vaccinium and Gaylussacia…The fruit of the various species of plant…is generally edible and tasty. The berries are small and round, 5-10 mm in diameter and look like blueberries. Berries range in color according to species from bright red, through dark purple, and into the blues. In taste the berries range from tart to sweet, with a flavor similar to that of a blueberry, especially in blue- and purple-colored varieties. However, many kinds of huckleberries have a noticeable, distinct taste different from blueberries, and some have noticeably larger seeds.
According to one of our campground hosts at Glacier Campground, huckleberries are just “glorified blueberries.” No matter what, we knew we needed to try them to continue our quest to taste regional foods across the U.S.
Our First Tastes
Our very first taste of huckleberries came after a stop at Candy Town USA on our way out of Billings. We stopped in to check out the meat-themed candy options and get our sugar fix. We didn’t expect to find huckleberries.
OK…technically we didn’t find huckleberries. We found Huckleberry Cheesecake Fudge. Not a bad way to start – who doesn’t like rich fudge and creamy cheesecake (except Edie’s Dad)?
Although it was incredibly sweet, the fudge was good with a hint of the sweet berries. However we wanted to get a better idea of the huckleberry flavor without all the fudgey, cheesecakey goodness.
We didn’t think too much about the berries again until we rolled into West Glacier and started seeing roadside stands everywhere advertising the fruit. Finally, we thought, we can get a container of fresh berries and taste them without anything added.
Apparently, even in the current days of being able to buy tomatoes in December, there is still such a thing as a “berry season” and we were too early.
Sadly, we gave up our quest to find fresh berries. Instead, on a rare warm & sunny day during our time around Glacier National Park, we consoled our broken hearts with a scoop of huckleberry ice cream.
Our Take – Jam…With a Kentucky Twist
Scott decided he wasn’t satisfied with just tasting other people’s huckleberry concoctions. Being the awesome chef that he is, Scott decided he wanted to take a stab at cooking with Montana’s regional fruit. So with the fresh berries unavailable, we went in search of the frozen variety…only to find that we’d missed purchasing the last bag by about 24 hours. Foiled again!!!
We settled on a no-sugar-added jam to try to get the berries’ true flavor without too much added sweetness. Scott added some of our Kentucky heritage (a splash of Woodford Reserve) and turned the jam into a incredible sauce for pork chops. YUM!!
Huckleberries do taste remarkably similar to blueberries, but they do seem a bit sweeter. Obviously, we haven’t had them au naturel, but what we have tasted we certainly enjoyed. Next time, though, we’ll aim to hit Glacier National Park around berry season and try the fresh version!