Exploring Blueberries and Huckleberries
A Part of Our Past
In North America, there was a time, not that very long ago, when blueberries and huckleberries were a part of childhood. Mom or Grandma would hand you a pail with instructions to
"Go to the end of the road and pick a bucket-full for a pie."
You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"— Robert Frost
Today urban sprawl and development are erasing those enchanted pathways lined with fruit-bearing shrubs where wild birds nest and deer happily graze and forage. We can't turn back the clock, but we can spend a few moments learning about these luscious purple-blue orbs that stain our fingers (and faces) and can be baked into memorable pies, muffins, and so much more.
Blueberries. Huckleberries. What's the Difference?
The Differences Are More Than Skin Deep
Unraveling the mystery of blue- and huckleberries is more than simple botany. Depending on where you lived, the bush might have been named not from knowledge of the genera and species but rather by regional vernacular. But here are the facts:
North America, Europe, and Asia
Western North America, southeastern Alaska and British Columbia south through western Washington and Oregon to central California
Evergreen Huckleberry (aka Winter, California)
Native only to Pacific Coast
Eastern North America
Blueberries are shrubs that can vary in size from 4 inches to 13 feet in height. In commercial production, the smaller species are known as "lowbush blueberries" while the larger species are known as "highbush blueberries".
The plants can be either deciduous or evergreen, and the leaves are small and oval-shaped, from less than a half-inch to 3 1/4 inches in length. The flower blossoms are bell-shaped, white to pale pink. Ripe berries are round, flared at the crown end. They begin green and as they mature turn pink, reddish-purple, and then dark (almost black) purple in color.
Blueberries are a global fruit (and the table below is a testament to that fact).
They can pop up all over the U.S., and while 38 states grow blueberries commercially, ten states account for more than 98% of U.S. commercial production: California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington. — BlueberryCouncil.org
Who Grows the Most Blueberries?
The United States and Canada produce 95 percent of the world's blueberries. (Amounts are in tons)
- United States - 239,071
- Canada - 109,007
- Poland - 12,731
- Germany - 10,277
- Mexico - 10,160
- France - 9,011
- Netherlands - 5,498
- Spain - 5,000
- Sweden - 2,888
- New Zealand - 2,718
- Romania - 2,621
- Russia - 2,500
- Luthuania - 2,335
- Peru - 1,840
- Italy - 1,324
- Ukraine - 1,300
- Uzbekistan - 1,100
- Switzerland - 308
- Portugal - 255
- Denmark - 125
Red huckleberries are deciduous shrubs growing up to 13 feet in height. New growth is bright green; older stems are dark brown to black. Like blueberries, the flower blossoms are bell-shaped, creamy white to pale pink. The berries are round, flared at the crown end and quite small (about 1/4 of an inch across) and are orange-red to red in color.
The evergreen huckleberry is perfectly happy in sunshine or shade. The plant retains its leaves throughout the year. New growth in the Spring is reddish-bronze which deepens to a shiny dark green. Those that grow in the shade of the forest can reach up to 15 feet in height; they form lush, dense hedges filled with pea-sized black fruits which are enjoyed by birds, deer, and even the occasional black bear.
We have a dozen or more shrubs on our property. The fruits are small indeed, hence the name my children gave the pies we make from them—million-berry pies.
There is a species of huckleberry common to the piny lands from the commencement of the Columbian valley to the seacoast; it rises to a hight of 6 or 8 feet. is a simple branching somewhat defuse stem; the main body or trunk is cilindric and of a dark brown, while the colateral branches are green smoth, squar, and put forth anumber of alternate branches of the same colour and form from the two horizontal sides only. the fruit is a small deep perple berry which the natives inform us is very good.— Meriwether Lewis, Lewis & Clark journals, February 7, 1806
The Salish tribes of the Pacific Northwest made special combs of salmon backbones to strip huckleberries from the bushes. They dried the berries in the sun or smoked them and then mashed them into cakes and wrapped them in bark for storage.
The black huckleberry of the eastern section of North America tastes very much like its blueberry cousins, but with a few more seeds (a bit of crunch and added fiber for your diet). The bushes, a welcome spot for nectar-seeking butterflies, are rather small (just 2 to 4 feet in height), with small oval-shaped green leaves. Red flower buds appear in May and develop small (1/4-inch to 3/8-inch) blue-black fruits which ripen in late summer (mid-July to August).
The fruits grow best in dappled light shade and are a common inhabitant of the forest understory.
Blueberries - Are They Really Healthy?
YES! Blueberries are a powerhouse of antioxidants and nutrients. Here's what you get in just one cup of fresh blueberries:
% DV (daily value)
There are countless recipes on the internet for blueberry or huckleberry muffins and pies. You won't find those here today. Instead, I'm offering some innovative, savory uses of these "dessert" fruits. Here's a list of what you will find:
- Blueberry-balsamic glazed rosemary chicken
- Blueberry Brie grilled cheese
- Blueberry chicken chopped salad
- Blueberry, feta, and honey-caramelized-onion naan pizza
- Blueberry-red bell pepper salsa
- Carb Diva’s (that’s me) huckleberry barbecue sauce
- Chicken tarragon Waldorf salad
- Kale-quinoa salad
Blueberry-Balsamic Glazed Rosemary Chicken
Driscoll's is a Californa-based distributor of fruits and berries. This recipe features "their" berries, but any fresh blueberry would be perfect in this sweet-savory chicken dish. The sweetness of blueberries and maple syrup blend with the acidity of balsamic vinegar and fragrant rosemary to make a rich sauce for baked chicken. Searing the chicken breasts in the skillet before making the sauce gives it extra flavor.
Blueberry Brie Grilled Cheese
"Hello Fresh" is a meal-kit delivery company that provides weekly delivery of fresh ingredients and recipes to your door. I've not used their services, but they do have some wonderful recipes on their website, like this one for a savory grilled cheese sandwich made with creamy brie and sweet, tangy blueberries.
Ingredients (makes 1 sandwich)
- 1/2 cup blueberries, washed
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 slices bread
- a handful of basil leaves, washed
- 3 slices brie cheese (can substitute mozzarella, Havarti, or white cheddar)
- Bring blueberries, vinegar, and sugar to a boil over medium heat, gently crushing the berries as you stir, for about 5 minutes. Strain syrup from solid berries.
- Spread blueberry mixture onto a slice of bread and top with basil leaves and cheese. Add the second slice of bread to make a sandwich and butter outside of both slices.
- Toast in a medium skillet, browning each side, until cheese melts.
Blueberry Chicken Chopped Salad
Here's a fun fact. Did you know that July is National Blueberry Month? This is my perfect July recipe—it features blueberries (the bushes next door are beckoning to me), it's too hot to cook, and I love main-dish salads.
Blueberry, Feta, and Honey-Caramelized-Onion Naan Pizza
Once upon a time, I thought a pizza was a bready crust, red sauce, and lots of meat and cheese. Then I visited Venice and had the most amazing pizza that broke all of the rules. The crust was thin, almost cracker-like. There was no red sauce, just a smear of basil pesto and a drizzle of fruity olive oil. No meats, but an abundance of briny olives, caramelized garlic cloves, and roasted slices of eggplant. It was Heavenly, and (dare I say?) life-changing. I would never think of pizza in the same way again.
Like the pizza I adored in Venice, this pie breaks the rules, and it's perfect!
Blueberry-Red Bell Pepper Salsa
Mr. Carb Diva loves homemade salsa, and I can't complain. Anything that encourages my family to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables is a winner. This salsa is chock-full of antioxidants, fresh flavors, crisp textures, and it's so pretty. Put that red and blue in a large bowl and serve with white corn chip on the 4th of July!
Carb Diva's Huckleberry Barbecue Sauce
This is a sweet, tangy (not spicy) barbecue sauce. Because of the high sugar content, I do not brush it on until the meat is just a minute away from being done. Or, you can brush or drizzle it on when the meat is completely cooked.
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups huckleberries (can substitute blueberries)
- Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.
- Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Cook until berries burst and mixture begins to thicken, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside to cool. The sauce will thicken more as it cools.
Chicken Tarragon Waldorf Salad
Here's another recipe that I created for my family. In the winter months I use dried cranberries, but when blueberries and huckleberries are in season, you know I'll be using them here.
- 3 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
- 1 cup celery heart (the tender inner portion), diced
- 1/2 cup fresh blueberries or huckleberries
- 4 tsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced
- 3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 1 cup homemade lemon mayonnaise, (see recipe below)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 cups Chinese cabbage, finely chopped
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.
- Serve on chilled plates.
Kale and Quinoa Salad
This salad is a nutritional powerhouse. First, look at all of those beautiful colors and textures from the berries and grapes. Kale and quinoa provide fiber and protein, the blueberries are chock-full of antioxidants, and feta cheese lends a creamy, tangy contrast of texture and flavor. Pistachio nuts give crunch but you can substitute any other nut.
The author of the recipe relies on a bottled balsamic dressing. Here's my homemade version:
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Whisk all ingredients together in small mixing bowl or place in a jar with a well-fitting lid and shake-shake-shake.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Linda Lum