Monday, August 13, 2012


Ross Sherburn said...
What about Huckle Berries?

You can even buy huckleberies at the above website.

Wow, Ross doesn't realize how cruel some questions can be... Reminding me about huckleberries is like reminding a person about their true love that slipped away and married someone else. Huckleberries just happens to be my most favorite berry in the whole world. The long sad story is that huckleberries are too hard to come by anymore. Now that you are hooked, I'll back up and tell you the long sad story of one of my true heartbreaks.

Years ago, back when logging was a highly a highly revered profession, great orchards of huckleberries grew at the feet of the giant redwoods. When the Redwoods were selectively logged, it would let in just enough sun to cause the huckleberries to bear large quantities of big, fat, juicy and tender fruit. Being a logger allowed a person access to all of the huckleberries that you could pick. Many times when my family went huckleberry picking we would come home with four or five gallons of huckleberries. Those were the good old days before modern logging and rogue corporations bought up logging companies and started clear-cutting and spraying the forests for “conifer release”. I tell you, some times it almost makes a person be ashamed of being a logger. Many loggers didn’t approve of the corporations over-cutting, clear-cutting, and spraying of the forests. I was one.

Tip: To clean picked huckleberries, take a clean piece of synthetic fly screen, tack it to a frame four feet wide by eight feet long. Make the frame four feet wide at one end and two feet wide at the other end. Stretch the screen tight across the one end and let it sag down loose to the other. Sprinkle the berries across the top end then lightly tap the screen from underneath. The berries will slowly flow toward the sagging end. By the time that they get there they will have left all the leaves, stems, and twigs behind. Place a bucket under the sagging end to catch the berries. When the screen gets too many leaves on it, simply brush it off and start over. It makes picking berries much faster and easier, because you can simply strip the branches loosely with your hand. The few leaves that you get doing that can be sifted out using the separator screen.

Before modern forest practices, huckleberries were easy to get. Kids would pick various wild berries throughout the summer, they used the summer work to buy school clothes, or the boys were usually working to buy a bicycle or a new 22-caliber rifle. The berries were sometimes sold to the local restaurants to make their “homemade pies”. Most of the restaurants took great pride in their pie making. Many people frequented the coffee shops back in the ‘50s and ‘60s just for a cup of coffee and a nice slice of “homemade pie a la mode”. (pie, with a scoop of ice cream)

In the '70s, two things happened to ruin huckleberry picking, the timber companies started spraying herbicides for conifer release, and the newcomers started showing up. The newcomers were strangers to the local folks and there was no trust between them. The new people that were buying property were quick to put up "no trespassing" signs, so the berry patches that were available for generations to the local folks all but disappeared. Woe is us.

If you never saw the massive huckleberry patches that were in our hills before the '70s, you are a newcomer to this canyon. Huckleberry brush was so plentiful that we had a huckleberry brush picking industry. It was mostly a side industry of logging. If a logger lost his job, because of seasonal lay-offs or any other reason, they simply picked huckleberry brush or made redwood split stuff. The ones that picked huckleberry brush did quite well as a side job. The brush picking did not deplete the huckleberries, but encouraged new growth that delivered better berries. Yum!

The spays of brush were used in the florist industry for making floral displays. The brush pickers also picked fresh sword fern and sold them to the same processing facility. The large metal building behind the Lutheran Church in Redway was a huckleberry brush processing factory. (Now Johns auto repair?) It was run by the Hunt brothers. Not the famous ones, but the infamous ones. The thing that I liked about the factory is that they refrigerated the sprays of brush before shipping them. I used to get paid to maintain the refrigeration.

The brush was picked as flat sprays, as they were called. The flatter and the more foliated among them were the most premium. The sprays were delivered the processing plant in the metal building where they were graded and bunched for sale. The people that worked in the factory were SoHum’s first "trimmers". The brush was immediately placed in bins with a water spray over them to keep them from wilting, the dead leaves and braches were trimmed out, then they were placed into graded and counted bundles for sale. Once they were graded and bundled, they were wetted again and placed into the large cargo container sized walk-in refrigerator. The entire walk-in full was shipped out to a floral supply house in one big pay-day, then they would start all over again.

But, we were talking about huckleberries themselves, weren't we? As I was saying, huckleberries are my favorite berry. The huckleberries have a very strong sweet flavor, similar to a blueberry, but much more intense. I like to mix huckleberries about one third berry and two thirds apples for my pies. The huckleberry flavor completely dominates the flavor of the apple pie, yet the apple moderates the flavor of the berries for a super delicious pie. You could eat two or three pieces without going catatonic. Home-churned ice-cream goes well with it also.

You can still find huckleberries in the remote locations in the backs of state parks, but nothing like the "good old days". One of my favorite huckleberry picking stories takes place about thirty years ago when my wife, Janis, and I were picking berries in the back of a state park when we came across some bear "sign", that's a polite way of saying "crap". Bears like huckleberries as much as I do. In fact, they will even eat them before they are totally ripe, which seems kinda' like cheating. My wife said, "shouldn't we be worried?" I said "not really, black bears are really fairly timid and they try to get away from you if they can". I saw the look of doubt on her face. I just could not resist going on to say: "They don't usually bother you unless they have a cub. Or, maybe you surprise them or something". I told her, "Just look big if you can, and yell and scream a lot". Then I got to really enjoying her uncomfortable feeling and just could not resist saying: "For some reason, black bears will usually attack women first". Before she could ask why they would do that, we came across more sign... And it was still steaming. Being the gentleman that I am, I quickly escorted her out of there. My plan was that if the bear started following us, I would sprinkle my bucket of Huckleberries behind me. I know full well that if the bear truly liked huckleberries as much as I do, that it would stop to eat the berries instead of me or my wife.

Tip two: Huckleberry pie should ALWAYS be served with barbecued wild salmon.

An interesting side note:

"Huckleberry" was commonly used in the 1800's in conjunction with "persimmon" as a small unit of measure. "I'm a huckleberry over your persimmon" meant "I'm just a bit better than you." As a result, "huckleberry" came to denote idiomatically two things. First, it denoted a small unit of measure, a "tad," as it were, and a person who was a huckleberry could be a small, unimportant person--usually expressed ironically in mock self-depreciation. The second and more common usage came to mean, in the words of the "Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition" (Crowell, 1975):


Ross Sherburn said...

Great info about the Berries and good to see your blog rollin' again!!!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thanks Ross, maybe you should go back and read it again. I correcred about a thousand typos.

Lil' Black Bear said...

Hey Oregon, where'd you say Ernie's huckleberry pickin' patch was?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember ever picking huckleberries. Didn't need to as most of my family picked them and I got the pies, the good pies Ernie was talking about with the apples mixed in. If I ever did or was going to pick I would carry an implement that spits bullets. I never go anywhere without a gun of some sort. Never. Anywhere.

If Janice was thinking see could have told Ernie she saw a Rattler go into the brush. I'm sure Ernie would be ready to go before any bears showed up.


Ross Sherburn said...

I couldn't find a Huckleberry pie at the Super Wal-mart in Willows the other day?
Whats the World coming to???

Oregon,you getting use to those big "Marts" up near Tack-O-Ma?

Ernie Branscomb said...

I would be packing a gun, but the only place that you can pick berries now is in a state park. If Barney Park Ranger saw me with a gun he would shoot first and ask questions later. Same with all cops, some are good and some are bad. Kinda' like people.

The bears get most of the berries in the parks. There are more bears than ever and fewer fish and berries for them to eat

Robin Shelley said...

I actually have huckleberry bushes in my backyard & along the driveway but the birds beat me to them. Lucky to get a small handful now & then. Blackberries are abundant (& fat!) this year. Plenty for the freezer, some jam... & a pie if Oregon should pass through this way again.

Anonymous said...

No berries on Hurlbutt property?

Anonymous said...

Ernie, you bring up a good point about not taking guns onto state park land. I think it never crossed my mind because I can't remember going into state parks.
Is Abalone Point a state park? I always had a rifle or to with me during the days I stayed there. Of course that wouldn't have done me much good during a bear attack if I was on the beach in a wet suit.

Oregon17 uaryncj

Anonymous said...

No berries on Hurlbutt property?

Marie might shoot first ask questions later.

Ekovox said...

Los Bagels, part of that 1970's newcomer regime, has been offering huckleberry pastry delights for a couple of years. Owner Dennis Rael has a secret patch he doesn't wish to divulge to keep his supply in check.

Out in the Klamath-Trinity region, huckleberries were used as both an soothing liniment for sunburn and hemmoroids and as a laxative for children and old folks. One local Hawkins Bar oldtimer used to say the huckleberry salve would make you "shi* like a bear" when applied as a suppository. Many folks along the Western Trinity River would use the old slogan for Brylcreem hair tonic and say, "A little dab will do ya!"
Our family sold many a bucket of huckleberries to the newcomers as color-fast dye for their wild tie-dye t-shirt designs they had come accustomed to sporting as apparel. Out in the hills, it was difficult to come by the usual Rit-Dye used in other regions, so huckleberry juice was used for the favored purple color of the Newcomer Nation.

Oh, as an aside, where you find huckleberry will find Bigfoot "sign" too. It's a fact!

Kym said...

Ernie, sometimes when I read your blog my eyes fill with tears. This was one day. Poignant reminder of the things that have been lost.

Gabby Haze said...

I was just reading a newspaper article from the early 1900's about a group of 29 Bricelanders who went on a picnic and picked 40 gallons.

Good stories Ekovox!

S. Catman said...

...Poignant reminder of the things that have been lost. I am so with you Kym, never would have guessed that Huckleberries were the preferred suppository of Bigfoot, but now we know.

Ross Sherburn said...

Gabby Haze said...
I was just reading a newspaper article from the early 1900's about a group of 29 Bricelanders who went on a picnic and picked 40 gallons.

My Aunt Laura Begley used to come up from Covelo,to pick berries in the Briceland area!(50 years ago)

Gabby Haze said...

Olmanriver wanted me to say that fires apparently renew the huckleberries as evidenced in this mention in the Daily Standard of 8/9/1905: "HUCKLEBERRIES RIPENING-- Old fashioned on the dinner menus of our good housewives, as the berries are ripening quite fast and will be quite a crop on the hills that were burned over a few years ago."
He also asked me to ask you if he could please have a slice of huckleberry pie instead of blackberry pie?

GH said...

should read "Old fashioned huckleberry pie on the dinner menus..."

dorothycoughlan said...

berries are for good for immune system and pro-health
health insurance for individuals

Deborah Sauls said...

Huckleberries! Yum!!! I miss my time working at the State Parks walking the campground and picking huckleberries. The small joys of living in the country.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Hi Debbie!
It's good to hear from you. It hasn't been the same around the fire department since you got married and abandoned us. I miss your help with the wall photos. Brian has done what little has been done with the photos lately.

When Your dad first joined the department they called him "The Skinny Kid".