Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Huckleberries Cont.

Bearing in mind I am talking about Virginia, and that if you attempt this in another area, your results may vary: How does one go about finding huckleberries? It seems that first you want to find a hardwood forest that has been been around for decades, then search a portion of those woods that definitely has an understory of vegetation. Some forests will be too mature or, for some other reason unclear to me, just not support an understory. But where you find an understory, there amongst the small to medium size bushes you'll have a chance to find huckleberries.

As Marsha remembers for her childhood blackberry picking days, wearing long pants, long sleeves, and boots is pretty much what you'll want to do. If it's hot and steamy, you'll be tempted to wear shorts and sneakers, but you need more protection than that from insects and briers. I'd look for poison ivy, and if your plot seems to have a bunch of it, you might want to pass it over for somewhere better. Actually, I think it can be easily avoided anywhere there are huckleberries, the poison ivy seems to be rare in an authentic older natural setting. The vile vine really seems to follow human activity around, no kidding. I especially notice if there has been mowing in an area, poison ivy will show up in the regrowth and amongst the understory nearby. No human activity nearby will probably mean little or no poison ivy.

So, how to recognize the quarry? I pulled out my Peterson Field Guide / Edible Wild Plants book. It says to look for "low to small shrubs. Leaves elliptical, short stalked, toothless or minutely toothed, " a description that is pretty useful and any of the rest not so much. Looking further in the guide, I'm thinking now that what we typically have only been calling huckleberries and deerberries could also include bilberries, juneberries, and serviceberries. This would explain why we were starting to conclude that there must be a bunch of huckleberry subspecies. For sure, the berries can be all sizes and any color from blue to black. Some are really tiny, and as is supposed to be the case with huckleberries (apparently) never as big as what you see in the store.

One would have to be an expert to recognize for certain all these berries we have been picking; even the Peterson guide is not enough. The good news is that one thing distinguishes these morsels, and is readily identifiable, is the way the remnant of the flower is recognizable at the end of the berry as in the store-bought blueberry.
The Peterson calls this calyx lobes. If you are out picking and see them on the end of your berry, it will definitely make you recall the store-bought blueberries. You have an edible berry on your hands, pick it!

Which brings us to the next question, would it be possible to pick a poison berry by accident? The Peterson is always careful to show what to avoid, and only warns against the Buckthorn. This plant too can have elliptical leaves, so potentially you could get confused, but we have had no problems. I have come across what I think are these berries, and as the guide says, they taste bitter, so you can do a quick test and spit it out. But mainly they are easily avoided because although the right size they do not look right, they do not have the
calyx lobes and this is just something that can be spotted instantly. I have picked enough of these huckleberries now that I know in just a fraction of a second that I have the right berry, it really is that easy. Not to worry, newbies catch on fast.

Finally, this brings up the question of who should pick the berries. Frankly, I don't think small children should even try, not because they might pick the wrong thing, but honestly the whole picture of getting up early, braving bugs and briers, having to hunt sometimes pretty hard; these things would be a problem. More mature kids, if they want to go, could pull it off in some cases. If you had any doubts, the cook or the person getting the berries ready for the cook can check out what's been picked at the necessary stage of going over the batch. This'll get rid of misc. leaves and stems that have been collected and makes a final quick double-check that all the berries look right.

Stay tuned for one more post regarding a development I'm following, which will explain why operations could move to Maryland. Perhaps we can keep scofflaw Matt out of the hoosegow, too!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Huckleberries and the case for 'why we aren't crazy'

I'll have you to know that we are talking Superfruit here! Turns out blueberries are great anti-oxidants, and furthermore, the wild ones in particular are. Certainly a huckleberry is nothing but a wild blueberry. In some areas, as Louise noted, the term used is 'wild blueberry' rather than 'huckleberry,' but there possibly is no real difference and certainly no substantive difference.

And when I say Superfruit, I mean Superfruit! Check it out:

And do note that the wild variety, as opposed to the cultivated variety, is especially superb.

Friday, July 11, 2008

So you'd like Huckleberry Pie?

For the first time in years, my brother Forrest and I went huckleberry picking this July. If it has occurred to you that you've never eaten any of these berries, well, probably there is a reason, at least why not any picked in a southern state. These things ripen in the middle of July in Virginia, so if you want any, you find yourself having to brave the woods at their steamiest. Frankly, it can be pretty awful with the humidity, heat, and insects. But the thing that had been discouraging us lately was the way traffic continued to get worse and worse on a weekend. A decade ago several of us on the weekend would make the trek to this patch below Fredericksburg that's loaded with the plants. Our champion picker turned out to be my wife, Sue, who always put the rest of us to shame. This time around, though, brother Forrest and I went mid-week a couple of times to beat the traffic. But this meant only the two of us could put the time aside. One thing stayed the same: we would wind up marveling that there was a time that these berries really got picked in earnest, at least in the South. I gather that there is a tradition of picking huckleberries in Montana, perhaps the Northwest in general, with festivals and such. I'd like to think they have a better situation there.

In our family, there was a pretty dim recollection in our age group regarding the berries. We had a memory of Grandmother Baird making huckleberry pies, the berries apparently provided by an Uncle Joe. I absolutely do remember how good those pies were, even though I must have been just a tyke last time any pies were made. At Mom's High School, they had a cheer:

Strawberry Shortcake!
Huckleberry Pie!
V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! [spelled out]

which was certainly suggesting that it was a common enough treat not so long ago. On the other side of the family, Grandfather Williams had a story of going to pick huckleberries along the Arkansas River and giving it up, joking that he only was able to find ticks and chiggers. But that was it, and we kids ourselves, and I mean no one we knew either, ever even came close to thinking about picking our own huckleberries.

Something possessed me to buy a guide to edible wild plants a long while back; was it to pick huckleberries? I doubt it, but there indeed was a section on huckleberries. I remember noting the details of how to find them and being surprised that the plants were reasonably easy to locate. The mystery of why nobody was picking them, though, was solved quickly when we found they ripen in the nastiest part of summer. You really have to admire how hardy the pioneers and their immediate descendants really were. It was food and they went out and picked it!

Pretty remarkable is how consistent the experience has been. Almost invariably the first thing that happens is you walk out into the patch and get discouraged. There are clearly huckleberry plants everywhere, but at first it seems there are none with any berries. Slowly you realize that there are a few ripe ones if you look hard enough, and sometimes plenty of green ones. You realize you are going to have to hunt for the things. Usually, it takes a couple of people all morning (you want to start early enough to beat mid-day heat) to pick enough for a pie or two. There's no point in picking the green ones, they won't ripen after being picked like some things. We wind up trying to time a trip for when the berries would peak, but usually can't pull it off. This year was no different, after our first trip we guessed the next week would be perfect but couldn't go. By the time we made it the following week, it was clear we missed it.

So you spend all morning hunting for berries, and you've had it at that point, not once has anyone wanted to stay and pick, that one morning is enough! If it happens to be one of the days of July that is the hottest or steamiest, it is absolutely amazing what it takes out of me physically. Slowly it dawns on you that this pie better be mighty good or you are certifiably crazy, one or the other. When the pie is produced, though, it is indeed just unbeatable. The result is similar to what you get if you just buy blueberries at the store, but it is better by far, the wild berries are just packed with flavor.

So is it worth it? Well, probably not, unless you're a person who enjoys getting out into the woods, regardless. Those that do understand what I mean, and those that don't, well, you may never taste huckleberry pie!

Stay tuned for more posts. Yep, believe it or not, the topic can be expanded.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Good comment by somebody:

"Kimberly Wake Up"

As a reporter, if this is your attempt at research, then it is pathetic at best. There exists SERIOUS concerns about MyGallons. Where do I start?

First let's look at the found Steven Verona - filed for bankruptcy in 2000 and has a history of dubious business ventures. More importantly, NO material history of effective commodity risk management.

Second, the company currently has NO way to provide it's 'members' with a fuel card. He claims he will find a replacement card provider, but that takes months of work. he should shut down the site until he is ready. He is currently still accepting members and collecting $30-$40 in fees.

MyGallons is operating out of a 'virtual' office in Miami. The address of MyGallons on their site is 1221 Brickell Ave, Suite 900. Regus (the office leasing company) uses that address for those looking to have a "virtual" office with the benefits of a 'credible' address. Rent starts at $250/month. The operation may not even physically be at that address. Does that not raise another flag for you?

The US Bank/Voyager logos along with logos of Exxon, Sunoco, BP, Shell, etc have all been removed from his site in recent days. Hmmmm, why would that be you think??? That doesn't help those that signed up when those logos were present on the website launch.

The honorable thing to do is shut down the site until all the pieces are in place. Otherwise it IS misleading regardless of the defense MyGallons will list on their site or in the press. The currently have NO facility to provide it's members with a card - FACT. The list goes on Kimberly. MyGallons has an "F" rating for a reason.

Peter of ME

Monday, July 7, 2008

My Gallons Dot Com

Check it out, an idea my brother Forrest and his wife Linda came across:


I think I would want to talk to someone who has taken the plunge. It's not $30 a year if you don't sign up for automatic funding... they can forget that, so that means $40 per year for me.

They say "virtually all" gas stations will accept the card. I'd like to hear from someone we trust who says in fact he hasn't had a problem with that.

Clearly, anyone who signed up last year would be looking brilliant now, and any hassles would be easy to blow off as unimportant. Signing up now is less clearly advantageous, but even if we had signed up earlier, that advantage would be gone [I think] by having spent the investment. It will be a crap shoot every time you try to decide how much money to lock into at the lower prices? Less than $500 might be a waste of time when $50, or $100, gets eaten up instantly? I'm using question marks because I haven't really gotten into those details.

testing, testing, 1, 2, 3