Montana Huckleberries

There are no less than 13 seasons in Montana, including Third Winter, False Autumn, and roughly 5 weeks of Mud. Real Summer is anywhere from April or July (snow in June brings along Fourth Winter and an additional week of Mud) to Fair Weekend or sometimes November. But once Summer hits, it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Autumn and First Winter are quite spectacular, as are False Spring and Thunderstorm Week. But Real Summer is like nothing you’ll ever experience. Cool waterways are plentiful for swimming, fishing and boating. The population is sparse so peaceful hiking, camping and foraging are available around every corner. For all but Thunderstorm Week, the heat is dry and the skies are blue. Come August, Firewood Season begins with cool mornings for sawing and hauling, then a jump in the lake in the hot afternoon sun. August also brings the most important time of year, Huckleberry Season.

Huckleberry patch locations are shrouded in absolute secrecy, just like crabbing spots here on the Sound. Under no circumstance does a Montanan share where or even when he picked his purple gold. I’ve heard tale of adult children learning of their father’s patch coordinates only upon his death. We don’t mess around when it comes to huckleberries.

On my last visit to the Clark Fork Valley I was able to make arrangements via a secret phone call at the grocery store with an elderly woman and her sons to purchase a couple gallons of fresh picked berries. First name basis, cash only, and a secret head nod known only to Montana natives- it would all feel a little scandalous to outsiders but if you’ve ever tasted these berries, you’d understand why we guard them, literally, with our lives. (bears are real and they love huckleberries)

Huckleberries have a strong, rich flavor so if using in place of blueberries, you can likely reduce the amount by half. For these scones I used only a cup of berries, mixed straight from the freezer to reduce color bleed. Remember to always use cold butter when baking flaky treats.

I rarely have buttermilk in the house except for large catering jobs. Fresh milk with a tablespoon of vinegar suits me just fine. Yes, you must use buttermilk or milk/vinegar if the recipe calls for it. You need that acid to work with the baking soda. Sure you can omit both and use plain milk but there’s still some science involved so just stick with the recipe.

Whatever you do, do NOT over mix or knead a quick bread. The butter & leavening agent combination is meant to give you soft, flaky results. In the case of biscuits you can fold it over on itself a few times and then gently roll out. You won’t need to do that here.

One thing to note- preheat your hotbox well ahead of time for breads and cookies. The initial shock of heat is very important to get the loft and tenderness you desire.

I drizzled a bit of lemon glaze on top, it compliments the sweet tangy berry very well. Tastes like childhood.

Huckleberry Scones

  • 2 1/3 c flour
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t vanilla
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 c frozen huckleberries

Set the hotbox to 450. Line a sheet pan with parchment.

Sift the dry ingredients, then cut in butter til cornmeal consistency. Gently toss in the berries, chill. Beat the remaining ingredients til frothy and gently fold into the dry mixture. My junior high home-ec teacher said 10 folds is all you need for quick breads. She was right. Turn onto board with a bit of flour and sugar to prevent sticking. Gently press into a large circle about 1 inch thick. Gently cut, don’t saw, into 8 triangles. Use pancake turner to place on parchment, leaving plenty of space in between. Brush with a little buttermilk and sprinkle on some sugar.

Place in chill box til ready to bake. Reduce to 425 and bake 16-18 minutes. Leave on the pan til slightly cooled then drizzle with powdered sugar/lemon juice glaze.

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