Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bonanza


So this is how it works. At the end of summer, you go up to the mountain to get your huckleberries. You pray for one pieful and hope your humility will be rewarded with enough for two or three. The berries are tiny and sparse, sapphire-rare, and you drift languidly through the bushes like a T'ai Chi dude, as attentive to a blue speck as any miner looking for a flash in the pan. An hour later you can still see the bottom of the bucket. If you drop a berry, you get down on your hands and knees to track it down, trying to keep your tears out of the bucket.

Some years they seem plentiful and you scavenge a gallon over the course of six or eighteen hours. Some years your huckleberries are (botanically speaking) in the Theoretical family. No one has a clue why fortunes change from year to year, but people speculate. There was a late snowstorm. El Nino was in a snit. The Berry Goddess was having her nails done or seducing a televangelist when the fruit was supposed to set. No one knows.

And then there was this year. Mary Ann (purveyor of the World's Finest Salamander Hardware) and I pilgrimated to our usual spot and found ourselves hip deep in a sea of blue. I thumbed berries into my bucket; it sounded like a drum solo. After a while I quit picking the ones I'd have to bend over for. Later I narrowed it down to the ones in the strike zone. Then I passed up the bushes on uneven terrain and sought out the ones with a nice flat spot in front of them. Then I quit picking the large berries and concentrated on the huge ones.

By noon I was patronizing only the bushes that waved their little limbs in the air and said yowza, yowza, yowza. A short time later I was ignoring those in favor of the shrubs that offered free checking and a toaster. Towards mid-afternoon I limited myself to the berries that did a swan dive into my bucket when I passed by. An hour later I began ejecting them if they didn't execute either a tuck or a half-twist on the way in. I held up an explanatory card as I punted them out: 3.2, too much splash.

I began to hold out the largest ones so they would not make my pies lumpy. They'll be cut up for steaks and chops and put in the freezer. I ran out of containers for the rest and decanted them into the side pockets of my car.

I have room in my freezer for four pies, or one more pie than I have the serenity to make. I have enough berries for about twelve. There is no reason to keep picking, but I do. Somewhere in this glade I will find a bush with pie crusts on it.

Already rolled out.

52 comments:

  1. It's funny how quickly the miraculous becomes mundane, isn't it? It's good that you picked more than you can easily use now, though, if they are so rare. The freezer will keep them safe and ready to go in the middle of winter, when you NEED a taste of summer now and again.

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    1. Or at the end of next summer, when I need a taste of this summer again! Since we don't know what we (as a species) did right this time, we don't know how to do it again.

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  2. If you run out of freezer room there's always UPS. I've got room.

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    1. Nice try, but I got so many berries that--and this is true--we went out on Monday and bought ourselves a little freezer. We already had two tiny freezers on account of having two refrigerators in the kitchen (one dedicated to beer), but it's been such a struggle to juggle things around in there, and this put the situation over the top. Yes, I have two refrigerators and a freezer now. And I take long hot showers. If it weren't for the glow of having fired my clothes dryer years ago, I'd have to hang my head in shame.

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    2. That's a lotta berries, and beer. And a lotta refrigeration. Can't blame me for trying!

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    3. Well, if you come visit, I'll make something out of them for you. Promise.

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  3. At the end of summer, you go up to the mountain to get your huckleberries.

    Mountain? Mountain? Nasty steep things. What's wrong with Fred Meyer?

    It sounds as though the Berry Goddess smiled upon you this year, but you definitely need to repent of suggesting that She might consort with televangelists. Anyway, hope you find that pie-crust bush.

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    1. Inf, honey, I am beginning to get the idea that you are not an outdoorsy sort. I love you anyway.

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  4. That is very funny!

    I guess I should sell Huckleberries short on the Commodity Exchange. I can see the Duke brothers yelling SELL! SELL!

    I never even saw a huckleberry. Phil Rizzuto Yankee shortstop and later announcer called everyone "You Huckleberry." He grew up in Brooklyn, I doubt he ever saw a huckleberry either.

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    1. The Duke brothers! I have seen that movie a hunnert times. I met Phil Rizzuto once at the wedding of Yogi Berra's son Larry. Also Micky Mantle and Whitey Ford. I hadn't heard of most of them, except MM, which drove subsequent boyfriends nuts.

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    2. OK, I'll bite. How did you end up at Yogi's son's wedding?

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    3. Former boyfriend's (whoa: as opposed to current boyfriend?) best friend Francine married Larry.

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  5. Well, I just put a huckleberry pie in the oven. Actually huckleberry / apple, my DH's preferred pie. This one is sweetened with coconut sugar, the last one with stevia (my preference). For these last two I have used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Pie Crust Mix (rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, rice bran, xanthan gum). You mix it with butter and ice water, and it makes an excellent crust! The next few I will make my own gluten free crusts with the addition of hazelnut meal, vinegar and an egg (really!). I have several friends that are wheat or gluten free, so it seemed like a good idea.
    I put two gallons of the berries in the freezer, but that still gave me a gallon to play with. An embarrassment of riches! Now I am trying to think of a way to send distant friends (who are unfamiliar with the fruit) huckleberry tarts.
    Margaret returns on the 16th, so we need a club meeting very soon (with huckleberries).
    You know we are spoiled for any future huckleberry outings!

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    1. We definitely are. But we'll have our memories. And if we don't, we won't know what we're missing.

      An egg? Very believable. My standard go-to non-huckleberry piecrust calls for an egg and a dash of vinegar. I love it because it's in my recipe book in Mommy's typing (yes, I can recognize Mommy's typing), called "Foolproof Pie Crust," which it almost is, has many stains in the margins, and her own personal notes. Evidently it came from Woman's Day magazine in 1974. Every time I flip to that page, I feel like Mommy is talking to me.

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  6. You "pilgrimated."

    If you're going to make up a word, make up a good one, I always say, and that's a good one!
    I have never even seen a huckleberry. I'll have to check around and see if anyplace sells them.

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    1. Moi? I never make up a word. I scrabbulate some, sometimes.

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  7. Up (over?) here one carries bear spray on a huckleberry hunt. I'd have to drive more than a hundred miles to pick them, but at our Farmer's Market on Saturdays the Hmong farmers have them for 8 bucks a quart.

    When I lived in your city my 'secret' site was at the east end of a certain lake, starts with a 'L', that has a good view of Hood.

    Ever make a mixed huckleberry/gooseberry pie? Excellent.

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    1. I appreciate a good secret site, and so I will not reveal your lake that starts with an L and has a good view of Mt. Hood. (Heading up there in a minute...)

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  8. When we were out in Montana we were told that you could pick huckleberries but you were limited to two pints per person! Also the bears were picking at that time of year as well!

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    1. We saw ten or twelve bears but they'd gorged themselves and were sleeping it off, their paws in the air and little gurgly noises coming from their tummies. We just stepped over them.

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    2. Ah, the "Montana Berry Tax".....yes, you can pick more, but you have to give them to a local.

      Somebody was having some fun with you. Devious people, we Montanans.

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    3. My folks are underground somewhere over there. I should be used to it.

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    4. Back to the image of the bears, Murr. You're so lucky. I love bears.

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    5. Yeah. Well. I have actually never seen a bear on Mt. Hood, even though they're there. You can't always take everything I say to the credit union and cash it.

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  9. Bonanza, indeed!

    Your post reminds me that I need to get down to some pilgrimating. It's been since 2008 that I went on a pilgrimation, in fact.

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  10. Will you take a dozen piecrusts, already rolled out, for a quart of berries?

    Nah, I didn't think so.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Uh ... Nova Scotia. So, not really nearby. The piecrusts would maybe survive (although not if they went by UPS delivery, those drivers THROW the boxes on your doorstep) but the berries might be a tad weepy on arrival.

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    3. And the partridge berries would beat them up!

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  11. P. S. This was very, very funny.

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  12. Oh the memories. Not huckleberries which I am pretty sure we are deprived of. Blackberries. And purple stained lips, teeth and clothing. And huge berry stained smiles.
    And extreme care because in addition to the shall we say 'inconsistent' ways of our berry goddess she employs thorns. And hides snakes under the bush with the biggest, bestest, berries.

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    1. No snakes here. And if we want blackberries, we just quit hacking them back from the neighbor's yard, open the kitchen window, and wait.

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  13. When you carried the mail did you ever deliver a pie? If I could get someone to mail one to me do you think it would survive?

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    1. No, I don't think so, but I did receive one in the mail once. I think it was vacuum packed and express-mailed.

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  14. A bush with ready made pie crusts? Lead me to it!
    What's the difference between blueberries and huckleberries? They look the same to me.
    You could make all twelve pies and have yourself a bake sale.

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    1. They're not as sweet, so the pie is better. Plus I go all out with the Pacific NW bounty and make a hazelnut crust.

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  15. Count the years until the next bumper crop and you may notice a cycle. Like some fruit trees who produce a bumper crop one year, but only a little the next.

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    1. This reminds me of someone saying a particular geyser in Yellowstone had a period of 75 years..."and if it goes off again, we'll be sure."

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  16. Never had huckleberry pie, but if it's pie and has "berry" in the word before it I'm all in. Sorry I live so far away or I'd come knocking at your door to help you devour it! Enjoy the bounty!

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    1. I'm having my first pie tonight and I'll specifically toast you, Deb.

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  17. Wouldn't a rolled-out-pie-crust bush be the ticket? Years ago came across a huckleberry trove in Western Washington as I was driving in the mountains. No bucket. Wheel covers, 1950s style!

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  18. Are you a huckleberry hoarder? Looks like you hit a mother lode! To tell you the truth, I have never eaten huckleberry's and not sure I would recognize one if I saw it! You can send me a piece of pie, or bring it to me at Chrysalis Women Writers (you attended before) At Clackamas Community College. I live in Oregon City!!

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    1. I kind of like the idea of mailing a slice of pie in a large envelope.

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  19. My mom was a champion blueberry picker and taught all of us her special techniques. I remember a few bumper-crop years...you never knew when they were coming, and it was never two years in a row. They grew low to the ground, and long hours of picking produced back pain, but I swear those berries had a siren song and we followed it right into the woods.

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    1. These are high-bush, bless their hearts. Crum! Not a chance next year, huh?

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  20. Awww, now you've gone and made me hungry for pie! I also love the fact that you have your Mom's pie crust recipe, in her typing and with her notes. I love it when our parents speak to us through things like that -- brings back the warm fuzzy memories!

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    1. And you can't get any warmer or fuzzier than Mom and Pie.

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  21. This past year we found a recipe for chicken with blueberry sauce - fabulous!

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    1. Why do I picture that with whipped cream?

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