Huckleberries, sweet cherries were special vacation treats
Food for the Neighborhood
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 3:46 AM
When I visit someplace on vacation, I want to eat something that I can't eat anyplace else. In traveling to Montana, where we visited Glacier National Park, we ate train food on the way there and usually only ate our noon meal out.
Terra and Garnet Young worked at Glacier National Park as young girls dressed in “Swiss” costumes in the early 1900s. Writer Iris Clark hoped to find where her Grandmother Terra worked when visiting Glacier in August. The building in the background may have been one of many “chalets” where guests stayed in the 19-teens. It appears they were standing at the edge of a lake, perhaps Lake McDonald. A lodge with a Swiss look still stands beside the lake, but not all the chalets exist today.
One thing that seemed clear to me as we traveled by roadside businesses with big banners touting phrases like "best huckleberry pie in the world," huckleberries seemed to be the thing to eat in Montana.
I had a huckleberry ice cream cone at a gas station/motor mart and huckleberry vinaigrette on a salad at a restaurant in Glacier National Park. My daughter purchased huckleberry taffy to share with everyone.
Everywhere we shopped, there was a section with huckleberry jam and a myriad of other edibles flavored with a purple fruit that looks a lot like a blueberry.
I read that huckleberries have only 10 seeds in a single small, blueberry sized berry, while blueberries have 75 much tinier seeds. Bears like to eat huckleberries, so in the wild and on your own in the wilderness, it's best to stay away from them and leave the berries for the bears.
It was only on one of our last days in Glacier that we realized some tall bushes growing not far from the house where we were staying were actually huckleberries. They were tall, thornless and with small rounded leaves. I picked a couple berries and ate them, thinking they must be huckleberries because they looked like blueberries.
My daughter was watching and was pretty certain they were buckthorns. Well, the leaves were very buckthorn like, but the berries were pretty blueberry like. Sure enough, we finally agreed they were indeed huckleberries. We picked a few and stashed them in the fridge, thinking perhaps we might eat them in yogurt or baked in pancakes.
The next morning was the day when my grandson, Ian, and I were out walking and saw a bear below us as we stood above the railroad tracks on a footbridge. When we walked back to the house and were just about to go inside, we spotted (presumably) the same bear on the outskirts of the yard and sure enough, eating from those huckleberry bushes.
The branches holding the berries stood up above my head, and the bear's head too, but the bear deftly swatted the branches to the ground, where he nibbled off the berries.
For the purposes of this column, it wouldn't do to share a huckleberry recipe as they aren't available locally. While there, I bought a bottle of huckleberry vinaigrette to carry the taste of vacation back home with me.
We made another food discovery on the day we traveled south from Essex, where we were staying, to Flathead Lake, which promised a fun swimming experience for the kids. On the way, we noticed numerous roadside stands where sweet cherries were being sold. I had read in the Hungry Horse News that the local canneries were overflowing with berries and they were begging that no more be brought in so they could catch up.
On our return trip, a stop to purchase berries was a must. The woman at the stand where we stopped was selling both yellow and pink tinged cherries and the dark maroons ones we know as bing cherries. As we drove back, I ate and ate since they tasted so wonderful. A few made their way home in a bag, but most were simply consumed while we were there.
Another mission I have when I am traveling somewhere else is purchasing books recounting local stories and cookbooks representing local cuisine. I found a book with a very odd title, "Nothing to Tell." Its chapters were a collection of interviews with local elderly women, who told the pioneering stories of their families, many of which came to homestead in Montana.
They reminded me of stories my family had of early days pioneering in Minnesota - rural schools, sustaining themselves with homegrown foods and having small living quarters, along with a strong measure of hard work and little cash to spend.
The stories were so basic, yet interesting. When interviewed, the women had assured Donna Gray, who was recording their interviews, that they had "nothing to tell," which later became the title of her book. It took some years after Donna completed her interviews before she put them into a book, in which she allowed each woman to tell her own story. By now, the women were deceased as they had been in their late 80s or early 90s when she had interviewed them.
Another book I picked up was called "The Cowgirl's Cookbook" by Jill Charlotte Stanford. It contains a lot of basic stick-to-your-ribs, home grub that one who is working hard and doesn't have all day to cook, might want to stir up. Her recipe for corn bread really sounded good to me, so I tried it up at our cabin on a weekend after getting back home - when my sister and her friend were visiting us there. This is the recipe shared at the end. I baked it in a big iron skillet I have up north, and it was a perfect fit.
Since writing my last chapter of our Glacier vacation, I got an email from a person who was curious about the photo of my grandmother, who once worked at Glacier. I had surmised she might have worked with her sister at the Lake McDonald Lodge- so I had taken photos of the lodge, hoping to see if it matched somehow with the photo I had of them.
Later, I learned of the early chalets in the park, which housed rich visitors who rode from one chalet in the park to another via horseback. As the young women were wearing Swiss type costumes in the photo, and only a small portion of the building was visible, I began wondering if perhaps they worked at a chalet and not the lodge at all.
The reader said he had been to all the chalet sites in Glacier and thought perhaps if he saw the photo, he might be able to identify the location. I think my grandmother, Terra, is the one on the left and her sister, Garnet, is on the right. Notice the little rooflets in the background and the railing behind them. My thought had been that the stones and gravel beneath their feet was the shore of Lake McDonald and the mountain in the distance reminded me of the backdrop of that lake - but I might be wrong.
On a final note about our vacation, on the last night, two granddaughters, Kylie, 10, and Sylvie, 4, created a little show for us to enjoy. They stood on top of the picnic table outside the house, while we sat on a small roofed porch. They sang several selections with expressive actions and their final piece was an original creation. They turned the local newspaper into a song, "The Hungry Horse News." What an adorable, homegrown and imaginative show it was! See what happens when one lacks cell phones, TV and the Internet!
A Cowgirl's Cornbread
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup, brown sugar or honey
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan or a two-inch-deep round iron skillet.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
In another bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and stir until mixed. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Smooth the batter into the pan or skillet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.
Makes 12 pieces.