COLUMN: Slow and steady to huckleberry glory

Easy pickings with Gord Turner

I found huckleberries again this year — as ever in my usual spot not far from the Columbia River. Others have been telling stories of huckleberries in the valleys and along lower mountain slopes. The internet is alive with huckleberries for sale —hard to believe at $10 a pound.

My first two pickings produced half a pail to a pailful in a three-hour day. This is considered by regular pickers as awfully slow. That’s correct, but then I qualify my comment by saying the berries were huge and succulent. Though there were only a few berries per bush where I was picking, I still picked enough to freeze, some to make jam, and a few to eat with my morning cereal.

When I pick, I’m steady and stick to it. Even if I’m in a patch with only a few berries, I pick the bushes clean before moving on to look for a better crop. In fact, I don’t mind picking the little black berries along with the larger ones — they’re all delicious. My hunkering down in one patch and staying there until the berries are finished bothered my kids when I took them along. They simply wanted to wander, and they clearly only wanted the marble-sized berries.

I used to be able to pick a pail of huckleberries at about the same rate as other pickers. Now, I lag behind, clearly demonstrated by my son finishing his pail at least a half hour ahead of me. I noticed my “slowness” too a couple of years ago when I took my college friend picking up near Nancy Greene Park. He hadn’t picked huckleberries before, and he ended up with more than I had.

My excuse is that I pick “clean”, and many of my friends pick leaves and berries.

Most of my huckleberry friends ramble while they pick. My long-time former-teacher friend covers the entire plot by the time we’re ready to head home. My older friend who grew up on huckleberries wanders here and there, picking away and whistling. A few days ago, my son travelled around the entire patch on the cliffside — and still outpicked “steady” me.

When I lived on the prairies, I was a champion picker of saskatoons (service berries). I discovered, however, that no one here in the mountain valleys of B.C. will eat saskatoons if huckleberries are available. The mountain saskatoons are much too woody even though the flavour is similar to the prairie saskatoons.

Later, living at the Coast, we picked saskatoons, made saskatoon tarts, and told our new friends they were in for a treat. They tasted them, but they wouldn’t eat them. They told us huckleberry tarts were far superior, and after they brought huckleberry tarts to our house, we had to agree with them. Now I only pick huckleberries.

I may browse on a few saskatoon berries on my way to the dark-purple and black huckleberries somewhere up ahead, but I leave the bulk of the saskatoons for the bears.

It’s especially pleasant to pick huckleberries early in the season. They’re always available up where the Kinnaird Park Community Church is located and along many of the nearby trails as far south as the Kinnaird bench. Early on, they’re evident along several fairways at the local golf course. Often they can be found in mid-July in the Merry Creek trail areas.

Beyond that, would-be pickers will have to wait until late July and head up to Nancy Greene Lake, to the Bombi summit trails, or up to sites on Rover Creek. The best patch, if you can get there, is in the high country of Goose Creek. It takes a bit of exploring and a touch of luck, but there are huckleberries to be found.

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