Recipe: huckleberry lemonade
Neva will be five months old in a couple of days. I have this mental disconnect that she is still a puppy and yet she has changed and grown so much since her first days with us. My sleeping pattern has shifted earlier because of the puppy, so I tend to go to bed a half hour to an hour sooner than Jeremy. During that time before Jeremy turns in for the night, Neva hops up on the bed and snuggles with me. Usually Jeremy will hear a series of exclamations like, “Don’t sit on the pillow!” or “Stop licking my hair!” before things settle down (and by things, I mean Neva). When both puppy and I are nodding off into Dreamland, Jeremy will gently lift Neva off the bed and carry her to her crate, which is next to my bedside. And then we sleep as much as we can before she wakes up in the morning.
But one morning last week, we were the ones waking Neva at 4 am to go for her biggest hike yet – Mount Bierstadt, a 14,060 foot mountain. Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation) are a thing here in Colorado, because there are over 50 of them and because some have class 1 or class 2 trails to summit. Jeremy and I have mixed feelings about these mountains as they tend to attract a lot of people, something we prefer to avoid. This is especially true of mountains like Bierstadt which are fairly close to the Denver Metropolitan area and are relatively “easy” as fourteeners go. We chose it for these reasons – close to our house and not too challenging for Neva, who has been “in training” since the day we got her.
On the way to the trailhead, we stopped at the Georgetown Visitor Center to use the facilities and then Neva hurled in the car. Neva gets car sick quite often, so we usually have towels, plastic bags, and napkins at the ready. We are hoping she’ll grow out of it, but I’d love to hear if any of you have suggestions or recommendations on how to make her car rides less pukey. While Neva ate her breakfast (aka dinner) at the trailhead, she spat something out in the middle of her chowfest. Jeremy picked it up and placed it in my outstretched palm, “A baby tooth!” he said gleefully. At last, her adult teeth are coming in and those razor sharp baby teeth shall maim us no longer.
the sun clears the ridge with bierstadt in silhouette (upper right)
the view from summit
jeremy holds neva up for the token summit photo
Neva was a champ getting up the mountain, only whimpering on the last pitch when the boulders were too big for her to climb. Jeremy – the real champ of the day – carried her up and down those sections with the care and surefootedness that I’ve come to trust with my life. There were a lot of people on the summit, so we didn’t linger for very long. Plus, we discovered that Neva was scared of the thousand foot drops on either side of the peak (we consider this a healthy fear). She stayed very close to us and leaned her body against ours, trembling and making short quiet moans. On the descent, Jeremy carried her down the boulder field until they were safely on the saddle and she could resume being the crazy puppy that all of the hikers wanted to meet and pet. Not bad for a puppy’s first fourteener.
stopping for treats
taking a break and refueling
a nice cool stream crossing in the afternoon sun
The next few days were spent checking on huckleberry patches. It’s an odd season with lots of what Erin and I call “ghost” hucks – dead, dried up, white hucks that didn’t make it to their glorious purple potential. Was it due to late freezes or perhaps long stretches of hot weather with no nurturing afternoon rainstorms? We were concerned because this seemed to be happening to most of the patches that had been loaded with purple berries the previous season. Thankfully, the motherlode had lots of snurples (the really dark, sweet, purple berries – another term we coined), although a good fraction had gone ghost. Erin and I went foraging over the weekend to another spot that Jeremy and I had scoped out on a trail run last year. It had looked okay when Jeremy and I took Neva up there to check it out in the failing light of dusk, but when Erin and I arrived Sunday morning, there were so many snurples we couldn’t even make our way through the patch without stepping on some berries. Hot damn! We named this patch ML2 (motherlode 2) and by the time we headed back to Erin’s truck, our fingers, pants knees, and pants seats were stained purple.
jeremy captured me picking huckleberries at sunset
what a couple of hours will get you
It’s been hot and dry here such that the mushrooms have all but packed up and left, and our air quality has been abysmal due to smoke from wildfires in California and Washington. It makes me sad because this is typically a lovely time of year in Colorado and because California and Washington are both states that are dear to my heart. After several hours of picking huckleberries under the sun, I couldn’t wait to get home and pour myself a glass of huckleberry lemonade. That’s where it’s at for me. Lemons and hucks make a great team – why not drink them?
lemons, huckleberries (frozen), water, more water, and sugar
simple syrup: add water to the sugar
The basic breakdown is lemonade and huckleberry syrup. Homemade lemonade is a real treat and I highly recommend making it from scratch, but I’m sure if you buy lemonade, the drink will still be amazing because of the hucks. Huckleberry syrup is probably something you can purchase online or if you’re lucky enough to live in those blessed states where huckleberries are a big thing (Idaho, Montana, Washington), purchase from a store. And if you’re really really fortunate, you can make your own. If you prefer a smooth syrup, you’ll have to strain your huckleberries through a fine mesh sieve. If, like me, you don’t mind the pulpy style syrup, send it through a food mill or keep all of the berry solids in the syrup. When you spend that much time handpicking teeny tiny magical berries, it’s hard to bring yourself to throw any of it out.
simmer water and huckleberries
mash the berries when they’re soft
send the mash through a food mill or a sieve
simmer the purée with an equivalent measure of sugar
Now you have your four components – simple syrup, lemon juice, water, and huckleberry syrup. The simple syrup, lemon juice, and water go into making your lemonade. Adjust the water to taste depending on how you like your lemonade (sweet, tart, watery). Even though you only use a little bit, do keep in mind that the huckleberry syrup is also sweet, so you probably don’t want an overly sweet lemonade.
water, huckleberry syrup, lemon juice, simple syrup
pour the simple syrup into the lemon juice
top your lemonade with huckleberry syrup
This has got to be the most refreshing beverage on the planet. It’s a beautiful color, too. Hucks and lemons. Lemons and hucks. What a match made in heaven. And for you boozers out there, feel free to add gin or vodka. Of course, as always, if you can’t get your hot little hands on huckleberries, then try its chubby bluer cousin, the ubiquitous blueberry. Huckleberries make summer worth it for me.
a tall cold glass of “ahhhhh”
my new favorite summer beverage
1 cup huckleberries, fresh or frozen will work
2 tbsps water
1/4-1/3 cup sugar (measure final liquid and add same measure of sugar)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
Make the huckleberry syrup: Place the berries and water in a small saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and let cook another 5 minutes. When the berries begin to give up some juice, mash them with the back of a spoon, spatula, or a masher. Pour the contents through a sieve if you want a smooth syrup or run through a food mill if you don’t mind some pulp (seeds and guts – which are delicious). Measure the resulting purée and add the equivalent amount of sugar to a small saucepan with the huckleberry sauce (for example, if you get 1/4 cup of purée, add 1/4 cup of sugar). Stir together over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 minute. Let the syrup cool. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Make the lemonade: In a small saucepan, stir the sugar and water together over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring the simple syrup to a boil and let boil for a minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Mix the lemon juice and simple syrup together in a pitcher. Add enough water (2-4 cups, depending how strong you like it) to taste. Stir in the huckleberry syrup or pour a tablespoon on top of each glass of lemonade. Serves 8.
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