Pushing through a dense web of bendy limbs, the sweetly perfumed stench of valerian fills my brain, making me dreamy as leaves crunch under my feet. With softly angled knees, I scan the bushes at eye-level for clustering orbs: cerulean, oxblood, indigo. Fingertips and smiling lips stained. My skin prickles at the thought of cougars stalking where trees meet the meadow and jealous bears watching me pluck their irresistible treats. I hope they don’t mind my visit. This is my favorite hike of the summer, and I’m not deterred…so far.
My basket becomes heavy with precious gems as rain soaks the ground. I will cherish this berry bounty all autumn and winter long. My little joys of summer.
This year I decided to preserve my most favorite native fruit by making several preparations. (Don’t worry, I ate myself silly while harvesting too.) I briefly considered separating each Vaccinium species to test flavor nuances, but they each offer uniquely sweet, sour, and savory elements that make the combination really nice. Some are even kind of oniony! These recipes can also be made with plain old cultivated blueberries, or any other berry you’re going to really miss when the weather turns cold.
huckleberry honey cordial
This is my very first fruit cordial! I used the fruit spirits master recipe in the brand new and damn fantastic book Foraging and Feasting. I’ve read that fruit cordials age well as the alcohol mellows, but the authors of this book recommend drinking within a year. I am going to let this baby age for at least 3 months before trying, but I am curious to see how it holds up – if it lasts through the winter.
1 cup huckleberries, mashed
4 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
good vodka (gin or brandy)
Mash your huckleberries in a glass quart jar and then add the honey. Pour vodka over the fruit until filled to the top of the jar. Shake well! Allow to extract for a month in a cool, dark cabinet. Strain out the berries, making sure to mash out any remaining juice. Age for another month or two if you can wait. Serve in cocktails, mixed with champagne, or over ice.
huckleberry maple shrub
Thoughts of blueberry pancakes swimming in syrup came to mind as I was making this shrub. So, at the very last-minute, I grabbed my jug and poured that liquid heaven into my precious bubbling berries. This is the “hot method” for making shrubs, but you could also use the cold method found here and just add the maple syrup when you add the vinegar.
1 cup huckleberries
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup organic maple syrup
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
Heat 1 cup of water and the sugar in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and gently simmer for 3 minutes. Add the berries and maple syrup, mashing them well with a fork, and simmer together on low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add the vinegar and shake well. Allow to infuse and mellow for 5 days before straining.
You can soak berries (or other fruits for that matter) in vodka for a week and then use the infusion to make tasty cocktails. The berries become little boozy nuggets as they plump with alcohol while also imparting sweetness and flavor. I love to add a few soaked fruits as a garnish to each glass as a nice nibbling treat. I infused 1 pint of vodka with 1/2 cup of huckleberries.
berry kamikaze cocktail
1 1/2 oz berry infused vodka (drunken huckleberries above)
1 oz Cointreau (triple sec)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup (optional)
1 spoonful of berries as garnish