Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Foraging 5 & Plant Identification: I bet you walked right by… I know I have.

The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice. – a proverb

Nova Scotia bog huckleberries. Wiki Creative Commons
Actually, I do remember wondering why "those blueberries over there" were so much darker and so much later than the "other" blueberries. Well they weren't blueberries. They were huckleberries.

Gaylussacia reinosa (Huckleberry) is a native of Nova Scotia that closely resembles the native wild blueberry. It is found mainly on barrens and partly wooded land with the blueberry, but is capable of growing in shadier areas than its cousin. 

Blueberries are of the genus Vaccinium, which includes cranberries, just so you know.

Huckleberry bushes are about 1' tall with multiple branches. Flowers are very similar to that of blueberry. The fruit is small and round, 5-10 mm in diameter and look like blueberries except much darker. The taste ranges from tart to sweet, with a flavor similar to that of a blueberry. 

Wild blueberries. Note the matte colour.
Photo: justthisguyyouknow, Flickr ccl
To be honest, except for a bit more of a "matte blue" on the native wild blueberry, it's difficult to recognize a lot of difference. The leaves are similar and the bushes are fairly similar. Thank goodness they're both edible.

Huckleberries are a favorite of many woodland animals, including bears and me – so watch out if you're picking in the woods. I, or a bear, may sneak up behind you!

Huckleberries are difficult to store fresh for long periods (like blueberries), so if you harvest a lot be prepared to freeze. They are plentiful throughout Nova Scotia so should be easy to find. 

The best way to keep them straight from blueberries is the colour and that they ripen in August, at the same time or just after the native wild blueberries have passed.

Huckleberries. Photo outdoor PDK
Flickr ccl
Since they're so similar to blueberries essentially any recipe for one can be substituted for the other. The following recipe was for blueberries, but I substituted huckleberries.

Here's a recipe that always used to make us giggle when we were kids. I wonder why…

Old Fashioned Huckleberry Grunt

Grunt is a delicious Nova Scotian dessert recipe that dates back to the earliest settlers. Apples, rhubarb and strawberries were also used in a "grunt," but the all time favourite was Blueberry. 

Don't ask me why it's called Grunt. It's lost in the mists of time. But I have read that it is named for the sound of the berries cooking in the pot.

Photo: nyxie, Flickr ccl
Berry Sauce
4 cups huckleberries or blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Put berries, sugar and water in saucepan. Boil gently until they are juicy. Add dumplings (see below), cover tightly, wait 15 minutes and dig in!

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter, cold
milk (see directions)

Sift flour, baking powder, salt & sugar into a bowl. Cut in butter and add enough milk to make a very soft dough. Drop by spoonfuls into the hot berries. 

Cover tightly with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. The dumplings should be puffed and well cooked through. 

Transfer cooked dumplings to serving dishes. Ladle berries over top; serve with fresh whipped cream.


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