Recipe: huckleberry ice cream
Last summer, my friend and expert wild foods forager, Wendy, introduced me to foraging. It was the inevitable marriage of two of my loves: the backcountry and food. Make that THREE of my loves: the backcountry, food, and plants. I’m a little bit of a plant geek, although nothing close to Wendy’s level of knowledge and geekdom. Truth be told, eating the food is probably the least favorite aspect of foraging for me. I really love the outdoors, the thrill of the hunt (I tell Wendy that I think porcini hunting would be far more exciting if the mushrooms could run… and scream), and learning the native plants. Familiarity with the plants and their various medicinal or culinary uses makes me cherish these mountains even more than I already do.
So when Wendy told me she was going to show me huckleberries last summer, she said, “You’re gonna kick yourself when you realize what they are.” And she was correct. The plant is a low-growing ground cover over a good portion of our mountains. It is EVERYWHERE and I’ve always admired it as a pretty understory on the forested slopes. It’s been there this whole time and I never knew they were huckleberry plants! The plants seem to thrive above 9000 feet, but peter out near treeline (somewhere around 10,800 or 11,000 feet). The berries are small here in the Rockies and quite well hidden, especially if you don’t know to look for them.
the berries are underneath
Of course, as with all things, please don’t go randomly picking berries that you aren’t familiar with and popping them into your mouth. That’s just bad form… and it’s dumb. The first time I tasted a fresh huckleberry, I was blown away by the intensity of it. Huckleberries have the perfect balance of tartness, sweetness, and a big flavor for such a tiny berry. Wendy described it perfectly, “Huckleberries are what blueberries aspire to be.” It’s so true. I had a hunch that the huckleberries were nearing peak a few weeks ago, but I was so busy with out-of-town visitors and work that I didn’t get out to pick any until last week. Most of the patches were bare, but a few choice locations had some dark purple berries. I managed half of what I needed for a batch of ice cream. My fear was that I would have to augment the huckleberries with store-bought blueberries and wind up with bluckleberry ice cream. I tried another trail the following morning and was able to squeak out enough for the recipe. These were a little less ripe, but still so full of flavor that some sugar would brighten them up easily enough.
my end-of-season haul
make a compote: huckleberries, water, lemon, sugar
Labor Day weekend is like the unofficial end of summer, because kids return to school and something somewhere says you shouldn’t wear white until Memorial Day. In my experience, Labor Day is always hot as hell. That’s why ice cream is an ideal holiday weekend project. I believe wild huckleberries can be found in the western US (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado). Let me know if you have them where you live! I’m not sure how easy they are to source if you don’t pick them, but you can buy frozen huckleberries from some specialty food sellers for a pretty penny. If you can get your hands on huckleberries, DO SO. I am pretty much convinced that huckleberries are the VERY BEST BERRIES in the whole world. I even dream of huckleberries.
put the sugar and berries in a saucepan
add the water
cook on medium heat and whisk to break up the berries
stir in lemon juice
If you don’t have huckleberries available to you, you CAN substitute blueberries in this recipe. Just promise me that some day you will actually try a real huckleberry. I’m still kicking myself for missing out when they were at peak this year. The ice cream is a custard-based recipe because that is my favorite kind of ice cream. Custards create such a creamy, rich, and delightful ice cream that it was only fitting to pair it with the precious huckleberries.
huckleberry compote, salt, sugar, cream, milk, eggs, vanilla bean
combine 1/4 vanilla bean, milk, and cream
whisk the sugar, salt, and egg yolks together
temper the yolks with the hot cream
The two trickiest parts of making custard-based ice cream are: 1) tempering the egg yolks and 2) making the custard. Tempering the egg yolks means whisking a little bit of the hot cream mixture into the yolks at a time until the temperature of the yolks approaches the temperature of the hot cream mixture. The reason to do this is to avoid cooking or curdling the egg yolks. Once you’re past that step, you heat the entire mixture in the saucepan, stirring constantly to prevent the bottom from burning or curdling. Eventually the yolks will thicken the mixture and you will have a nice custard.
cook the custard until it coats the back of a spatula or spoon
strain the custard
I split my custard into two batches because I wanted to make huckleberry ice cream and huckleberry swirl ice cream. It’s the first time I’ve made a swirl ice cream, so I tried swirling some huckleberry compote in the plain vanilla ice cream as it came out of the ice cream machine. I should have put the soft ice cream into the container and then swirled in the compote – instead, I tried folding the compote into the ice cream in a bowl first. I think that over-mixed it, but there were still recognizable streaks of plain ice cream and huckleberry.
pour the chilled custard into the ice cream machine
soft ice cream
huckleberry swirl ice cream: fold the huckleberry compote
For the regular huckleberry ice cream, I stirred the remaining compote into the rest of the chilled custard, then ran that through the ice cream machine. It was a hot day and I wasn’t sure if the little canister could handle two batches of ice cream, but it managed just fine (I think because they were half batches and thus had less heat capacity).
make regular huckleberry ice cream: mix the compote and the chilled custard together
when it is done in the ice cream machine
As some of you may recall, I am lactose intolerant. Cream can really cause some havoc on my tummy. But I love making ice cream because it’s so fun to offer dinner guests a selection of three or four homemade ice creams. I only indulge when it’s something I really love, like passion fruit ice cream. Well, this huckleberry ice cream is one of those indulgences. I don’t think I’ve ever had an ice cream THIS GOOD in my life. There, I said it. Both the swirl and the regular versions are fan-freaking-tastic. The fruity tartness is not diminished one bit. Needless to say, this will be our frozen treat over the holiday weekend and I’ll be damned if I miss the huckleberry peak next summer!
the very bestest ice cream in the world
Huckleberry Ice Cream
from The Pie Lady
1 1/2 cups huckleberries, fresh or frozen (can substitute blueberries if necessary)
1/4 cup sugar
3 oz. water
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
Make the compote: Combine the huckleberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Whisk the break the berries so they release their juicy goodness. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let the compote cool completely.
Make the ice cream: Split the quarter vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape the seeds out into a medium saucepan. Put the vanilla pod in the saucepan. Add the cream and milk. Bring the cream mixture to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together until thick. Temper the egg yolk mixture by whisking a little bit of the hot cream in gradually until half of the cream has been incorporated in the egg yolks. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan with the rest of the hot cream. Cook over medium heat while stirring constantly (be sure to scrape the bottoms and sides of the pan periodically) until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill the custard completely in the refrigerator or over an ice bath.
To make huckleberry ice cream, combine the huckleberry compote with the chilled custard then process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. To make huckleberry swirl ice cream, process the custard in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place the soft ice cream in the vessel you plan to freeze it in (something shallow and wide works best for swirls) and then pour in the huckleberry compote. Use a dull knife, spoon, or chopstick to swirl the compote into the ice cream (not just at the surface, but also below the surface). Makes 1 quart.
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