Huckleberry Ice Cream

And for dessert, Mortimer is creating something featuring the humble huckleberry.

“We’re going to use it to make some ice cream. All ice cream really just starts as a custard, just a little vanilla bean custard, and then we’ll just take that custard and put it in an ice cream machine and then when that ice cream is just about done we’ll blend some of that huckleberry preserve on it and that’ll give us just a really beautiful and delicious ice cream.”

picking huckleberriesWe went out huckleberry hunting with Professor Dan Barney with the University of Idaho in Sandpoint. But first, we stopped into his lab where he’s trying to do something no one else has ever done. He’s trying to come up with a way to cultivate the highly prized huckleberry.

Read Betsy Russell's article on Prof. Barney's research, "Wild huckleberry nearly tamed."

“Huckleberries have been harvested from the wild for forever,” Barney tells us. “They were a main staple of the Native American peoples and the First Peoples up in Canada and they were harvested commercially by the Okanogan, for example, who sold large quantities to European settlers. They were used in trade and barter, but attempts to grow them in cultivation have generally not succeeded. The people go up and they dig up this beautiful thing, what they think is a bush. They bring it back, they plant it in their garden, plant it on their farm and it dies, because what looked like a bush is actually a branch. The stem grows underground, it’s called the rhizome, so you dig this thing up, it looks like a bush, but there aren’t very many roots attached and quite often it dies.”

huckleberries in a bucketIt’s similar to the morel mushrooms in that way, what you see above ground is only a portion of the plant. Barney lead us to one of his secret spots for finding the prized berries. When we drove in we even spooked a small black bear who was dining on the sweet fruit. This chunk of wild paradise is near Priest Lake, way up in Northern Idaho.

Dan Barney took us here, we are not going to give you directions, don’t even ask. But he will give you some tips.

“Well in this part of the country they will grow as low as 2,000 feet. They’re found all the way around Priest Lake; you can find them down near Lake Pend d’Oreille, Coeur d’Alene Lake, but really the most productive colonies are typically found at 4,000 – 6,000 feet in elevation. Look for a clear-cut or a burned-over area that was cleared out maybe 10-15 years earlier. North facing slopes are nearly ideal. On a south facing or western facing slope you’re going to be back under the trees a little bit more. They’re not hard to find.”

One of Barney’s concerns is how many people are trying to find them. It’s one of the main reasons he wants to figure out a way to cultivate the plants and protect the wilderness where they grow.

“We are now seeing a point where the harvest is becoming very high, very heavy and I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be able to come up to this spot and see this lake and have these berries here. This very plant can still be alive a century from now. I want to preserve that as well as helping our industry and helping provide jobs and income. We can protect this beautiful spot. That’s our goal.”

On the table, huckleberry ice cream is a crowd pleaser And an Idaho Ice Wine makes a fine accompaniment. It comes from the Ste. Chappelle winery out in Sunnyslope.

Winemaker Chuck Devlin explains what’s special about this sweet, dessert wine.

“What makes ice wine, ice wine is that we wait for the grapes to freeze on the vine. You pick the grapes while they’re frozen, you press them frozen and what it does is it forms ice out of the water, the juice that runs out is extremely sweet, extremely concentrated and we make it into a wine that, once again, is very, very sweet and very, very concentrated.”

Ste. Chapelle is one of the few places that can consistently grow the grapes that go into this unique vintage.

“Ice wine is kind of an iffy thing in other parts of the country. They make it up in Canada, but here we have weather where we go from literally having highs in the 80’s one week and then the next week it starts to freeze at 7:00 at night, goes down into the teens and doesn’t fall until noon the next day. So you just pick one of those days and you’ve got ice wine. I think we probably have the best climate for making ice wine in terms of being warm enough during the growing season to get the grapes ripe and then we’re cold right after the end of the season to go ahead and make the ice wine.”

As this meal, and our show, comes to a close, a final toast from host Bruce Reichert. “What a great meal we’ve had, everything has just been phenomenal. Folks, I’ve really enjoyed tonight. It’s really been a taste of Idaho from the morel mushrooms to the greens, the Kobe beef to the wines, so thank you all and I think we should toast our Chef. To John Mortimer!”

You have the good taste to call Idaho home. We hope you enjoy a special taste of Idaho.