written by 1859’s Home Grown Chef Thor Erickson
I went huckleberry picking for the first time in 1993. A fellow chef took me to his special spot near Mt. Hood. As we drove closer to the trailhead, he asked me several times, “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Of course,” I replied, “Why do you ask?” “No reason,” he said with a strange look on his face.
That day, I picked so many berries I didn’t know what to do with all of them. We were three quarters of the way home when I caught my reflection in the passenger side mirror. My lips and teeth were stained purple from snacking on huckleberries the whole ride back.
When I returned to the restaurant, I began to make jam, pie, crisp, ice cream, sorbet, scones, tarts, cobbler and puree. When I ran out of sweet applications, I started using them in savory things—soups, brown sauces, sausages, stuffing, pates, glazes and on and on. Huckleberries have a great balance of sweet and acidic that make them versatile. Everywhere I looked all I saw were huckleberries. I could not get away from them yet, at the same time, I could not get enough of them; I had a serious problem.
I started giving “stuff with huckleberries in it” to my friends. At work, I ran huckleberry specials, sometimes sending complimentary desserts to regular guests. At first, everyone loved it. They were amazed at the many things that could be created with huckleberries. Then, as quickly as it began, it came to a screeching halt. I was out of huckleberries. My friends stopped calling. What were once busy nights at the restaurant were now slow. Things had changed; I had hit rock bottom.
Weeks went by, and I could not get out of my rut. One particularly slow night, I sent most of my staff home. At the end of the night after shutting down the kitchen, I decided to clean the freezer. In the very back, behind a box of hazelnuts, there they were: some huckleberries in quart-sized bag, waiting to be found.
I took them out and started working. My muse had returned. I tossed the berries with some sugar, spices, shallot, fresh thyme and a splash of vinegar. I fired up the grill and threw on a piece of wild salmon. I felt the satisfaction of a bear preparing for hibernation with a similar pairing.
Huckleberry Shallot Relish
Makes enough for one whole side of grilled salmon or six 6-ounce portions
1 ½ cup fresh huckleberries
½ cup sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (optional)
1 large shallot (finely minced)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (minced) lemon zest and juice to taste
Place huckleberries in a medium bowl. Heat sugar, vinegar and coriander seeds in a small sauce pan and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add minced shallots and simmer two minutes. Pour over huckleberries, stir and set aside to cool. After the mixture has cooled to room temperature, add fresh thyme and citrus zest. Spoon over warm grilled salmon.