"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Splendor, Pigs, and Berries

Last Monday found us escaping the garden for a day spent trekking into the mountains foraging for wild berries. We were lured up to the enchanting Snow Lake, one of our favorite high mountain haunts this time of year. This part of the Selkirk mountains is still remote enough to be officially designated as grizzly bear habitat. We were even able catch a couple of bears on film in this area a couple years back.

The huckleberries were beyond numerous as we spent a couple hours picking the heavily laden bushes around the lake. I think we were out for around seven hours and did not see another living sole not even a bear, what a treat. Sometimes it is nice to feel as if you have the mountains all to yourself.

My wife peeking through a remnant of the Great Burn of 1910 that ravaged much of north Idaho and parts of Montana

Besides all the huckleberries we also found Twinberries, a variety of honeysuckle who's yellow spring flowers are later replaced with a pair of shiny black oblong berries protruding from brilliant red bracts. We find these berries to be very sweet with an almost jelly like texture. Apparently they are deliciously edible if eaten in the mountains of the northern states but have been reported to be very bitter in other areas of the U.S.

We saw a type of Pink Flowering Currant (I think that is what they are called) growing everywhere, we just call them blue currants. They have an enjoyable flavor that is hard to describe, not in any way similar to the a common garden currant.

There were Black Swamp Gooseberries also called Prickly Currants that have shiny dark clusters of hairy berries adorning their thorny stems and are not nearly as pleasing to the palate as the aforementioned berries...actually they are quite disgusting, but nonetheless edible.

The Black Elderberries are also unpleasant when eaten raw but very tasty when added with ground cherries to some of our favorite baked squash dishes. Interestingly enough, when we were at the lake I swear these elderberries looked black, but my pictures reflect an almost maroon colored berry...perhaps they are red elderberries.

Our berry picking adventure was pristine and beautiful, but not devoid of the traces of man. It's too bad that we have to spend precious time filling our packs with the refuse of those who hold no regard for the land...filthy pigs.

My wife picking up after the thoughtless slobs that last occupied this area

The next day we made a wonderful hucklegrape syrup and a surprisingly thick huckleberry jam. For the syrup and jam we used apples for pectin and and a little honey for sugar, they both turned out great...our very first canned fruit preserves. Yay for us!

Healthy, natural, huckleberry jam fresh from the mountains of northern Idaho


Ruth Trowbridge said...

hello there, i live in the selkirks too in southern bc, your berry expose is awesome as if you took the pictures here, i didn't know you could eat the "wild currants" as i call them, the light blue berries, i have lots and have always wanted to eat them - they are good to eat right? peace for all - shout out to the wife for cleaning up the mess

Unknown said...

I agree that the prickly currents are disgusting tasting. We have lots of them up here, and I just pass them by!

Question on using apples for pectin. What would the proportions be if I wanted 4 pints of jelly?

Stefaneener said...

Looks like a great way to forage for jam! It's certainly much more remote than my berry picking preserves.

Mr. H. said...


As far as I know all 120 species of currants are edible although some are not very palatable, we have eaten at least six different kinds. If you "carefully" try the blue ones (Ribes sanguineum) let me know what you think, we like them a lot.

We live about 130 miles as the crow flies from Canada, so perhaps much of what might grow in your area is similar if not identical to what we are blessed with. Foraging for roots, mushrooms, herbs, berries and so forth has become a big part of our lives. If you ever need help identifying anything let me know, perhaps I could be of assistance.

Mr. H. said...


If I were to make 4 pints of huckleberry jam I would use 3 large apples or 2 with 12 ounces of apple concentrate and a sweetener of your choice...if any, we always use honey (sparingly). That, and about 7 cups of huckleberries or blueberries.

Reducing at a fairly good boil for around 60 minutes should give you a nice thick jam. The higher the heat the thicker the jam will become. Huckleberries can be a tough one to thicken.

Mr. H. said...


Hey, as long as we are not getting it off the shelves of Walmart, we're doing good...right? Natural is natural whether it be high in the mountains or the neighborhood park.

granny said...

That jam looks and sounds devine.I have just ordered some of the ball preserving jars and hope to bottle our summer fruits and jams this year.Beautiful photos of the lake,the mention of bears however,did put me off alittle,lol.

Roasted Garlicious said...

another great post Mr. H.. give your lovely wife a big ol' extra HUGGGG for cleaning up piggy wiggy's messes... grrrr for them... it's terrible here too :( one can't go anywhere without finding some sort of garbage... mmmhuckleberry jam is all i gotta say :D

randi said...

I too add my thanks for the clean up. Nothing surprises me anymore. It slays me. Whoever those slobs were were FORTUNATE enough to have spent even a few minutes in those gorgeous mountains and they repay by treating it worse than a toilet. Sheesh. Don't get me started, I'll rant and rave forever.
On the plus side that jam sounds divine..did you follow a specific recipe or wing it?

randi said...

whoops, just noticed you already answered that question!

Anonymous said...

I love the wild gathering of berries also! Something about just getting them without having to plant, tend, trellis, and weed that makes them all the more succulent.

Thanks for the informative post. And lucky you for not having run into bears; we almost always do here (far too many of the darn critters here).



LynnS said...

Awesome post and beautiful photos. Ten points to the clean-up crew, too. Disrespectful, careless, and just plain LAZY....don't get me started either!

You guys live in Berry Heaven up there. Wonderful. It warms my heart to know how much you have researched on the wild foods in your region.

Your jam looks so very good -- a beautiful color. For being new with the process, you guys sure are adventurous. Good cooks are those who are brave enough to venture from a recipe! Methinks you are fast becoming canning-addicts.

Join the club....

Mr. H. said...


Good luck with your fruit preserves, canning is a new adventure in self sufficient living for us, but so far so good.

I never worry too much about bears that are stuffed full of berries...it's the hungry ones that are a concern.:)

Mr. H. said...

Roasted Garlicious,

You know, littering is littering but there is just something extra wrong with trashing an area that is pristine. All I can say is that they had better never do it in front of me.

We don't always clean up others messes though, sometimes there is so much stuff that all we can do is shake our heads in disappointment and move on.

Mr. H. said...


We wing pretty much everything we do, although I have never canned before I have made lots of reductions. The trick with jam is lots of fruit, high heat, pectin, and time. Some fruits like huckleberries and raspberies need to be reduced by half before they are thick enough.

We try hard to use natural products for thickeners, for example...blackberries and apples work great to help thicken raspberry jam (we made some tonight). Other high pectin sources are bananas, beets, cabbage, carrots, apricots, peaches, plums, gooseberries, tomatillos, grapefruit and so on.

What I really want is to someday be able to make peach and apricot preserves from our own trees.:) I have my fingers crossed that our new peach tree will manage the coming winter.

Mr. H. said...


You are so right, there is just something extra special about gathering foods that have grown themselves.

Perhaps we should, but we don't worry about bears that much in our area. Most of the bears we have come across are a welcome sight and usually more frightened by of us then we are of them. That, and I never go into certain areas without adequate protection...protection that I will probably never have to use but make us feel very safe. Safe from man or beast.

Mr. H. said...


It is berry heaven, and I can't begin to say how gratefull we are to partake in it.

I threw myself into cooking a few years back and have been smitten with it ever since. Once I tossed out the recipe book a whole new world was opened up to me, I found that I thoroughly enjoy creating meals.

My biggest issue with canning has been the whole following guidelines thing. Now that I realize that the only real guidelines to water bath canning are proper acidity and cooking time I am feeling a little better about being able to be creative with canning as well.

Of course, if I stop posting for a long period of time that may mean that I skipped to many steps and botulism has gotten the best of me.:)

Anonymous said...

High elevation, upright clusters - I would guess red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Mr. H. said...

Thanks EJ,

I have a feeling that you are right and will take note of that the next time I visit the area.


Knit Witch said...

Great pictures and congrats on the jams!! We just planted some of our fall/winter garden today. We are probably kind of late but we'll see what happens. Don't people that litter piss you off?!?!?! My husband and I spend some of our walking time EVERYDAY picking up after those pigs!

Mr. H. said...

Knit Witch,

It boggles the mind why anyone would want to pollute Like that. I mean, what are they going to do if you and I do not pick up after them. I guess pigs just like to roll about in their own slop. It's beyond my comprehension.

A big thanks to you and yours for helping us to clean up after the rest of them.

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