Day Two – On the Road with Oregon Bounty: Hidden in plain view
Day Two of “On the Road with Oregon Bounty” has made its way to the Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge region. Today, Greg takes you to a secret spot in the forest to hunt for the elusive wild huckleberry.
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I have a secret place that I visit only once a year, if that. Somewhere on the south side of Mt. Hood, well off the highway, down a dirt road and through a thicket of brambles and fallen trees, is my huckleberry patch. A hollow surrounded on all sides by protective bushes and middle age timber, you enter by stooping under a decomposing Douglas fir that lies across a dry creek bed. I’m sorry I can’t tell you exactly where, because then you might try to find it. Actually, some years my secret place is so good at disguising itself that even I have a hard time locating the front door.
When it comes to huckleberries, timing is everything. They can appear anytime in August and hang on for just a few weeks. Some years they’re still clinging to their wistful branches as late as the middle of September. The berries can be as small as a currant or as plump as a blueberry. Their skins vary from deep red to near black. Depending on the year, they can be in clumps that require only a gentle tug to send dozens cascading into your pail, or as sparse as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. That is what makes a successful huckleberry hunt so satisfying.
I am a second-generation Oregon huckleberry-er. One of the greatest treats for me growing up was a Saturday morning breakfast of huckleberry compote and fresh whipped cream over waffles. Taste one of my mother’s still-warm huckleberry muffins, and you’d wonder why the blueberry even bothers; the flavor of a ripe wild huckleberry is what its lowly domesticated cousin wishes it could flaunt.
So, it didn’t take much convincing when someone suggested that my “On the Road with Oregon Bounty” segment for the Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge region highlight forest foraging. With my guide, Dale Rassmussen, executive chef at The Resort at the Mountain in Welches, I headed up the mountain to the prime huckleberry zone, around 4,000 feet. From our spot on the southwest side of the mountain, just off Highway 35 (aka the Mt. Hood Loop), I could look out and see my own private patch. It was too far away to see if trespassers were poaching my berries.
The forests of Oregon are a virtual farmers market of produce, if you know when and where to look. In the spring, it’s fiddlehead ferns, ramps and morels. Then come the huckleberries, salmon berries and lobster mushrooms in summer. In fall, it’s more mushrooms, like chanterelles, matsutake, hen-of-the-woods, and bears tooth, to name a few.
Dale is a guy whose cuisine is about as regional as you can get. Chefs in New York, L.A. or Las Vegas might swoon over their haute cuisine with Oregon chanterelles and morels, but those are flown in on a plane. Dale can just head out the back door after a new rain and grab what he needs for the night.
Be aware the foraging can have its risks as well as certain restrictions. Certain mushrooms can be deadly, and some forestlands are off limits to public access. Before you go, contact one of the U.S. Forest Service stations for guidelines on when, where and what you can pick. There are U.S.F.S. stations in Sandy (503.663.6802), Welches (403.622.5741), Estacada (503.630.6863), and Hood River (541.308.1700), among others.
Take a look at today’s video and see what we did with our little huckleberry harvest, and then plan your own trip out into a forest near you. Good luck, and happy foraging!
**Link for forest service locations:
Editor’s Note: For helpful information on when, where and how to pick wild mushrooms, contact the Oregon Mycological Association
(www.wildmushrooms.org) or the Cascade Mycological Association (www.cascademyco.org). Also, please download this helpful guide (pdf) on more information about collecting and eating wild mushrooms.
Is any of the information on this page incorrect?