Early morning – when air is cool and scenery quiet – Mt. Hood is a marvel! It’s my favorite time of day to get a jump start at a place that is filled with adventures.
The first stop is Government Camp, one of many small villages that ring the Mt Hood region, and one that offers a fine drop-in site so you can get your bearings: the Mt Hood Cultural Center and Museum.
“Our mission is to preserve the history of Mt Hood,” said Cheryl Maki, the museum’s manager. “We’ve got ski history, pioneer history, 10th Mountain Division history, the mountains geologic history and more.”
Climb the stairs to the second floor inside the massive 9,000 square foot museum and discover a unique chapter of the Mt. Hood lifestyle that dates to the 1920s. It was a time and place when an enduring recreation era began; when Henry Steiner began building log cabins across the forest. This was a time long before electric tools, so hand tools like a “froe” (on display, and you can actually hold it) was used for splitting shingles and shakes.
It was work that demanded certain expertise. Henry Steiner and his sons delivered plenty of hand built craftsmanship through their 30-plus years of mountain cabin construction. Namely, longevity! There are more than 100 Steiner cabins still standing in the forest today.
The remarkable wooden structures are kept in tip-top shape by folks who enjoy holding on to heritage. “The cabin owners are very proud of them,” added Maki. “Some people have bought the cabins and restored them to their original glory. For so many log cabins to be around after so many decades is pretty impressive.”
And so is the Mt. Hood National Forest, where quiet back-roads lead me to delicious rewards during what my family affectionately calls, “huckleberry hound time.”
USFS spokesperson Jennifer O’Leary said that berry picking is…“a wonderful activity to enjoy with family or friends. It’s really great to see visitors out there enjoying themselves and tasting a little bit of Mother Nature.”
First stop is the Estacada Ranger Station for a free personal use permit. The permit explains the rules for gathering berries and where you can or cannot pick berries (for example, all wilderness areas are off limits).
I drive an hour from Estacada to reach our huckleberry heaven along USFS Road #42 (Skyline Road). This is an area we have explored countless times through the years. Our favorite areas include the Memaloose and Hillockburn side roads. Bring a forest map as the #42 road does go through areas on non-Forest Service land. Also bring extra food and water and tell someone where you are going, as there is no phone service.
There are nine species of berries on the forest, but two dominate this area: one is large and sweet, the other more red and tart. We have no trouble finding plenty of bushes full of berries that are a bit like “candy drops.” I usually eat more than I pick!
The berries are plentiful in areas of the forest that provide a sun–shade mix and if you lift up a branch and expose the underside, you’ll find an easier chore of picking the berries; especially if you have both hands free.
I pull over at a clearing thick with purple wildflowers and coniferous trees here and there. O’Leary’s best advice for the newcomer: “Get out to the forest and explore because there are so many roads where there are huckleberry patches nearby… if you see a huckleberry bush by the side of the road, chances are good there’s more right there, so get out there and look.”
Lift up a branch and expose the underside and you’ll find an easier chore of picking the berries; especially if you have both hands free. Soon, we are kitchen-bound with our bounty so to try a favorite family recipe called Huckleberry Crisp. It’s a simple recipe (see ingredients list below) that works well with the tart berries and best of all, it can be assembled and cooked in less than one hour.
The Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum offers a walking tour of 8 Steiner Cabins each year – the event is held on the second weekend in August and is fine way to learn more about the history of the Mt Hood area. In addition, the Center can link you with more information on renting cabins – including many of the historic Steiner Cabins that are available as rentals.
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup huckleberry or blueberry juice
4 cups huckleberries (slightly sweetened)
Topping (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees f.
Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a saucepan. Add lemon and huckleberry juices and stir until smooth. Cook over low heat until thickened and clear, stirring constantly. Stir in huckleberries and pour into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the huckleberry mixture. Bake for thirty minutes or until topping is crisp and golden brown. Serve warm or cold.
1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups corn flakes
Melt butter in a saucepan. Combine sugar and flour and add to melted butter. Cook, stirring constantly over low heat for three minutes. Add cornflakes, mixing quickly until they are coated with syrup.