THE FOODIE FILES: How I Huckleberry
Finding time to forage and preserve with small batch canning.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – The problem with the huckleberry season around here is that it arrives in the middle of summer. As soon as I get wind that those wild little berries are in, I make grand plans to head out to the hills and fill my buckets. My intention is always to gather enough huckleberries to keep my family rolling in huckleberry pancakes, pies, and jam all winter long.
Inevitably, the reality of midsummer sets in. I may spend a few afternoons plucking away at a wall of bushes in a Zen-like state, dreaming of that jam I’ll be putting up. But when it comes right down to it, I’m still too busy soaking up all the other summer options—you know: mountain biking, fishing, paddling pristine lakes, and hiking.
Even if I were to gather enough huckleberries to preserve a decent batch of jam, I’m still not quite ready to retire to the cool comfort of my kitchen for an afternoon devoted to canning.
For me, preserving is a September thing.
So this summer I am embracing the concept of small batch canning: putting up a few half pints of something seasonal and delicious in under 30 minutes. Instead of carving out a day for a big kitchen project, I am making jam on the fly. All I need is at least three cups of huckleberries, my quick jam recipe, and a handful of ingredients I already have in the pantry. After just a half hour in the kitchen, usually while making lunch or dinner, I can whip up a few jars of huckleberry jam to stash in the fridge or freezer.
My precious huckleberries, along with lemon juice, lemon zest, and maple syrup, are simmered in a small saucepan until their delicate skins begin to burst, which should only take a few minutes. Then I take my favorite wooden spoon and mash them to release their juices. I cook this down over low heat for another five to 10 minutes until it gets all jammy. I take it off the heat and let it cool down just enough so I won’t burn my tongue as I taste to assess the sweetness, adding more maple syrup if needed.
The best part of this recipe, besides the fact that it requires no sweetener other than a splash of maple syrup, is that one of my favorite superfoods provides the binding that turns the berries into jam: chia seeds. You are probably familiar with these darlings of the nutrition world. High in omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of plant-based protein and calcium, chia seeds often find their way into puddings and smoothies. They also give yogurt a healthy crunch.
Like tapioca pearls, chia seeds absorb liquid, getting all plump and chewy as they take on the flavor of their soaking medium. Once my huckleberry jam has been cooled and corrected for sweetness, I stir in a small amount of chia seeds. After another minute or so warmed on the stove, the seeds plump up and soften, turning my huckleberry stew into a fast and nutritious jam—no pectin required.
At this point I have only been dealing with the huckleberry jam for about 25 minutes. I gather two to three clean mason jars, pour the warm jam up to the rim, and seal with a clean lid. Depending on your berries, your technique, and how much maple syrup you use, you should get two half pint jars of Huckleberry Chia Seed Jam. Stash one in the fridge to eat up within a few weeks. The other jar can be gifted to someone you really like, or squirreled away in the freezer to be discovered in November when you’re rummaging for an accoutrement for your toast.
Since I’ve adjusted my own self-imposed foraging expectations down a notch, I find I am able to relax and enjoy my brief huckleberry gathering excursions. How many gallons I bring home doesn’t matter as much as my time spent in the woods, observant and immersed in the task of berry picking, savoring the sound of the drop, drop, drop of the berries in the bucket.
Recipe: Huckleberry Chia Seed Jam
(Adapted from Bon Appétit)
Yield: 2 half pints of jam
3 cups fresh huckleberries
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. (or more) pure maple syrup
¼ cup chia seeds
Bring huckleberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, and maple syrup to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries burst, about five minutes. Use a spoon to mash the berries into a jammy paste, being sure to keep some whole. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by about half.
Remove jam from the heat. Let it cool down just enough so you don’t burn your tongue while tasting for sweetness. Add more maple syrup, little by little, until the jam is sweet enough for your liking.
Return the jam to the stove and bring to a boil. Add the chia seeds and cook for about a minute, or until the seeds have softened. Spoon into clean mason jars up to the rim. Cover and let cool completely. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for up to three months. PJH
After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie Fenn traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.