Thriving in high mountainous areas where they can grow wild, huckleberries share the independent spirit of native Montanans. While similar to a blueberry, this undomesticated blue-black berry has a much thicker skin and packs more of a punch. The flavor is generally sweet with a dash of tartness.
Huckleberry hunters, beware. Furthering their distinctly Big Sky persona, huckleberries are a favorite food of grizzlies. The bears may spend all day foraging for the antioxidant and energy-rich fruit during summer months when the berries are ripening.
Montanan’s taste for the treat has developed into a special affinity—resulting in festivals, souvenirs and, of course, delicious food. Many local hot spots enjoy showcasing recipes that incorporate the fruit.
“Huckleberry is a local, traditional flavor that is unique to the Rocky Mountain region,” says Casey McGowan, owner of Trailhead Spirits. “It is more diverse than many traditional fruits and adds a local flair.”
“As far as berries go, I think that the huckleberry has the most intense flavor of any,” Joanie Swords, owner of Harper & Madison, says. “It is distinctive and versatile and lends itself to working with other flavors like lemon, vanilla or cinnamon and also works well for creating vinaigrettes or sauces. Since they are associated with Montana, they are especially fun to feature.”
When dining out this summer, embrace the unofficial state fruit and order these three huckleberry-inspired dishes from some of Billings’ most well-loved eateries.
Who: Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream
Where: Grocery Stores or Outlet Downtown at 114 N. 19th St.
What to order: Huckleberry Ice Cream
Novelties such as huckleberry sandwiches, huckleberry frozen yogurt and huckleberry ice cream bars are available in addition to traditional huckleberry ice cream. All ice creams are made with high-quality ingredients, real vanilla, Montana milk and cream and the FDA-approved natural huckleberry flavor.
Who: Trailhead Spirits
Where: 1400 S. 24th St. W. Suite 7, Downtown Billings
What to order: Great North Vodka lemonade with fresh local huckleberries.
Spirits are crafted from wheat raised in North Central Montana and pure mountain water originating in the peaks of the Beartooth Pass. This drink is a summertime favorite that is uniquely Montanan.
Who: Harper and Madison
Where: 3115 10th Ave., North Billings
What to order: Huckleberry Pancakes
Buttermilk pancakes with Montana huckleberries, cinnamon whipped cream, toasted Walnuts and maple syrup with Daily’s bacon on the side. Served throughout the summer on the Saturday brunch menu.