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so hucking good

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.

huckleberry plant

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
[print recipe]
from The Pie Lady

huckleberry compote
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

ice cream
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.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

blackberry ice cream passion fruit ice cream lemon ice cream single-ingredient ice cream

21 nibbles at “so hucking good”

  1. JaneM says:

    Yummmy!! I think store-bought ice cream pales in comparison to homemade because of the wonderful varieties you create. I’ll bet that I could polish off one quart of either swirled or blended huckleberry ice cream all by myself – lactose intolerance be damned. I am only half Japanese but it can still kick in with a vengeance when I eat certain dairy products. But it is so worth it.

  2. Rita says:

    This ice cream looks fantastic :) And I just now learned that what you call huckleberries are actually what we call bluberries in Norway. Like most Norwegians, I grew up eating them straight off the plant whenever we would go hiking or foraging. The large, white fleshed bluerberries do not compare in terms of flavor or color.

  3. Mrs Ergül says:

    I love berries! These turn out just too pretty!

  4. Lynn says:

    Hey, side topic, but I’m lactose-intolerant too (to other things too, mostly rich foods) and I’ve found digestive enzymes to be a life changer. Just pop one when you have a heavy meal or foods you know you don’t digest easily.

    My favorite brand for price-quality-quantity rapport are these: (Orthodigestzyme)

    And my second choice because they’re more expensive: (Digestmore Ultra)

    Give them a shot, and you’ll be eating ice cream again painlessly in no time. I swear, life changing.

  5. Kristin says:

    Wow…strong words! Best berries?! Now I want me some huckleberries!

  6. kurt jacobson says:

    Whenever I am in Tillamook Ice Cream country I buy their Huckleberry Mountain ice cream that I first tasted on a trip to Tillamook,OR in 1999. Last month while visiting Alaska I bought said ice cream but didn’t like it as it had a slight chemical taste to it. I would love to try your version of it someday as it looks fantastic!

  7. Linda says:

    It looks very yummy! And the picture in my mind of you running and screaming as you find the Huckleberries is priceless….. 8-)

    xo Linda

  8. jill says:

    Such a beautiful color! I’d like a sweater that color.

  9. Pey-Lih says:


  10. Suet Yin says:

    OMG! I can’t wait to try this~

  11. Twila says:

    Lots of huckleberries in Montana! They are something of a state berry – you can get special MT huckleberry jam, sauce, baked goods, candy, …. I’m missing huckleberry season at the moment myself :( But I did manage more wild strawberries this summer than others. Maybe I need to slow down…

  12. Dina says:

    this sounds so delish!

  13. Rocky Mountain Woman says:

    I used to go huckleberry picking with my mother in law and we made them into pies!

    thanks for reminding me of a sweet memory…

  14. Denise Browning@From Brazil To You says:

    Wow!!! Definitely, a frozen treat to die for… I am drooling!!!!!

  15. Rachel Sally says:

    Oh me oh my! How gorgeous is that color! This looks and sounds amazing. I remember eating huckleberries by the handfuls while hiking in Montana. Heavenly.

  16. Bev says:

    How did you manage to go this long without tasting genuine huckleberries? Yes, blueberries pale by comparison. I’ve picked huckleberries in the three places I’ve lived in B.C.: the Selkirk Mountains (west of Kootenay Lake, extending into Idaho), the Rockies (they’re especially good in the Elk Valley where we live), and, we even found some in the Coast Mountains of Northern B.C. Huckleberry jam is my favourite; but when we have an off year for the little gems I make Bluegoose Jam by combining 50:50+/- huckleberries and gooseberries. I agree with Twila about MT hucks–they’ve lifted it to a fine art there! Their best has to be genuine huckleberry fudge which we found near Glacier Park years ago. I’d be eternally grateful if, after you taste MT huck fudge, you featured it in a how-to. Puleeeeeze.

  17. Theresa says:

    That looks fantastic, and now I really want to try some huckleberries! PS. As a fellow ice-cream avoider because of lactose intolerance, I discovered this year that canned coconut milk makes a fabulous dairy-free substitute for milk/cream in ice cream recipes (and most other recipes too). Try it some time!

  18. jenyu says:

    JaneM – agreed. This is an ice cream I could easily devour, but because I don’t have anymore huckleberries I have to ration it :)

    Rita – ahhhh, I’m so jealous!

    Mrs Ergül – I hope you get to taste a real huckleberry some day. MINDBLOWINGLY good!

    Lynn – Thanks for the links, but I actually enjoy avoiding too much dairy or my ass would be twice as big as it is ;)

    Kristin – yes!! You ought to try them if you can because they are phenomenal!

    kurt – I’ll keep that in mind!

    Linda – actually, that was meant to be the porcini – wouldn’t it be funny if porcini could run and scream? ;)

    jill – :)

    Pey-Lih – yes!

    Suet Yin – I hope you can find some huckleberries! So good :)

    Twila – oh wow oh wow oh wow!! I think Wyoming might be the first place I tried huckleberries, but I definitely had my share in Montana too. And wild strawberries are absolutely delightful.

    Dina – thank you.

    Rocky Mountain Woman – man, that would be awesome. Hoping next year to forage enough for pies!

    Denise – :)

    Rachel – great memories!

    Bev – I’ve had huckleberry flavored taffy and such while on travel, but never a wild one straight off the plant until last year. And sure, I’ll try to track down a recipe for huck fudge. Sounds awesome!

    Theresa – yeah, I’m sure coconut milk works well! I just think it’s in my waistline’s best interest if I only taste ice cream ;)

  19. Jaclyn says:

    This does look like the best ice cream ever! I love fresh huckleberries, they make the best pancakes in the world. I always love your photos, they are so pretty!

  20. megan says:

    hi jen! i am so jealous of your access to foraged fruits/fungi – like huckleberry and porcini! too bad those are no where to be found in the ‘wild’ anywhere in Philadelphia where I live. I wish to try a huckleberry sometime soon!
    I love your pictures, as usual.

  21. marcy says:

    My grandkids come to MT for a month every summer and I try to coordinate it with huckleberry season. We picked almost every day and made huckleberry ice cream (bunkleberry as the little guy calls it), pancakes, muffins, smoothies, floats (using cream soda). There
    were hardly any left by the time they left. I did manage to save a couple of quarts, but akas they too are now gone. Next year, I’ll have to ration better…..or get them to pick more!

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