Finding a red huckleberry bush deep in a shady forest is a special treat. These sweet-tart berries make a delicious red huckleberry syrup perfect for drizzling over waffles, or into club soda for wildcrafted mock- or cocktails!
It should come as no great surprise to my long time readers that I have a family that forages together.
Well, at least the younger children that have not quite learned how very uncool their parents are just yet. Or just how unusual our habits of tramping through the forest to find ourselves berries, nuts, mushrooms, and greens may be. The still think this is cool. Perhaps soon their classmates will remind them that food comes from a store and that their parents are as backwoods as they come.
I will wear the backwoods label with pride.
Because you just can’t get red huckleberries at the store. And this red huckleberry syrup is special way to capture the essence and the memories of a day well spent in the woods.
How to Find, Identify & Harvest a Red Huckleberry Bush
A red huckleberry bush. sometimes called red whortleberry or red bilberry) are a sight and flavor very specific to the rainy, moist forests of the Pacific Northwest. While you may find a red huckleberry bush on the edges of a wetland, you are far more likely to find them in the under-story of mixed forests where the air is cool and moist. Key identification factors for red huckleberry are:
- located in moist soils with regular rainfall and fog (the coastal mountains are an ideal habitat)
- often found in growing out of decaying logs or stumps
- seen in mixed forest of maple, birch, hemlock and Douglas fir
- generally found between sea level and 6000ft in elevation
- frequently located in areas where salal (Gaultheria shallon) and Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifoloim, M. repens) are abundant
- 1/2″-1 1/2″ leaves leaves are a soft green with a pale underside; arranged opposite in small, bendable stems
- deciduous; not to be confused with blue evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
- grow in a vaguely vase shaped habitat, with more growth toward the top of plant
- small white to white-pink flowers appear through spring
- individual, bright red huckleberries appear July through August; jewel-like and semi-translucent
- berries are small; most average the size of a pencil eraser.
- blossom end of berries has pattern consistent with other members of the Vaccinium family like blueberries
Harvest red huckleberry when the fruit is fully red and sweet-tart in flavor. If should be noted that harvesting red huckleberries is a time consuming task. As the berries grow individually, instead of in clusters, you will find that the is harvesting process is a bit inefficient. Some have suggested bending branches down and shaking into a sheet or bucket. I, myself, prefer to pick the individual berries and place in a container with a tight fitting container. Due to the lengthy effort it takes to harvest red huckleberry, always close your harvesting tub as you move about. Dropping a container full of freshly picked berries would be tragic, indeed!
Sweet-tart Red Huckleberry Syrup Recipe
After a particularly productive day of foraging, my family and I collected a whopping eight cups of tiny red huckleberries. We were faced with a difficult choice — a singular pie, some jam or jelly, or a syrup. I favored syrup and the family was soon on board with my plan. This syrup captures the essence of the huckleberries — is sweet-tart with a wild, feral flavor that is incredibly delicious. This recipe is a very light syrup, so if you want a thicker syrup you may want to increase the sugar or honey called for in the recipe. I particularly love this drizzled into club soda, but the kids are rather enjoying this on waffles!
Sweet-Tart Red Huckleberry Syrup
- 8 cups red huckleberries rinsed & divided
- 2 cups honey or sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- In a large pot with a heavy bottom, bring 6 cups of huckleberries, honey or sugar, water and lemon juice over medium heat. Simmer for roughly 15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
- After simmering, pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (discarding the seeds and pulp), then return the syrup to the pot. Add the remaining berries and return to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for five minutes.
- Ladle into sterilized pint or half pint jars. Wipe the rims and place prepared lids and rings onto the jars (finger tight). Process in a water bath canner at a full boil for 10 minutes (half pints) or 15 minutes (pints).
- After processing, remove from canner and cool for 24 hours without disturbing. Check for seal and store in a cool, dark spot for up to a year.