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From milkshakes to beer, huckleberries add a unique Northwest flavor, but they sure are hard to find.
Walk into almost souvenir shop in Idaho, and you’ll find a row of huckleberry products – huckleberry jam, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry lotion, huckleberry soap. During the summer months, restaurants advertise huckleberry milkshakes, and bags of huckleberries start showing up at local farmers markets for $10 a pound.
Huckleberries are Idaho’s state fruit and a special plant because they cannot be domesticated and they only grow at high elevations. Huckleberries tastes as unique as their growing habits. They are highly sought after because they taste good in a variety of different food products. People who know the location of huckleberry plants usually do not disclose such information, because huckleberries are a hot commodity.
Amy and I like to drink huckleberries in beer and eat huckleberries in vanilla milkshakes. Despite living in Idaho for thirty years, we had never picked huckleberries and wouldn’t know the first place to look for a huckleberry bush. Summer 2006 we set out looking to pick some huckleberries growing in the wild. We didn’t have any luck finding the elusive berry until meeting a friendly man who lives in the small town of Avery, Idaho. It is our love for huckleberries and a chance encounter with Wade Bilbrey that made the film possible.
We met Wade through a couple who invited us to go with them to Avery, Idaho for the weekend. The couple ended up getting into a lover’s quarrel that quickly shortened their weekend vacation to half a night stay. Despite the awkwardness of not knowing if we should cut our own weekend travels short, we decided to stay because Wade, like us, had a fondness for goats and huckleberries.
In the morning, we went on a hike to film mountain goats. Filming mountain goats is a challenge because we were a ridge away from where they usually graze. Plus, mountain goats move, making viewing them through our digital camera tough or next to impossible. We decided it would be easier to film huckleberries because they don’t move unless there’s a breeze, and if so, they won’t move very far. Plus, unlike mountain goats, we can legally eat huckleberries.
Avery, Idaho is surrounded by the St. Joe National Forest and is prime huckleberry habitat. Wade Bilbrey is postmaster in Avery, Idaho and has lived in the area for over twenty years. He believes that there are enough huckleberries for everyone, and he was happy to show us his favorite huckleberry-picking patch as well as his homemade container for picking berries with both hands. He also tells some good goat stories.