I don’t live in huckleberry country (northwestern USA and western Canada), nor is it huckleberry season (late summer). But my fourth-grader picked huckleberry pie for her pioneer day project at school, so we’ve been enjoying huckleberry pie in March with frozen wild blueberries, pretending we are pioneers celebrating our berry-picking good fortune.
Don’t pelt me with huckleberries, I hear you that wild blueberries aren’t the same. Wild blueberries come from the opposite side of the continent, particularly Maine and Quebec. Huckleberries are not sold commercially, but wild blueberries are harvested commercially from vast natural blueberry fields, making them widely available frozen.
Huckleberries, a favorite of grizzly bears, grow elusively in the wild, often in steep forests. The huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho, and huckleberry hunting is an annual rite from the Pacific Northwest to the American and Canadian Rockies.
Small and flavorful, wild blueberries capture some of the intensity of huckleberries, without the hard seeds of their western cousins. Commercially-raised highbush blueberries tend to be bigger, fleshier and thinner-skinned than their wild lowbush counterparts. They release more juice during cooking, and it seems to me they have more pectin than the small wild blueberries, which don’t turn fruit smoothies into jell the way the big berries do.
Pies, an Old World specialty brought to the New World by European settlers, were practical pioneer fare. They could be made with any fillings that were available, and unlike cakes, they did not require leavening ingredients such as baking powder, soda, or even eggs. Flour, lard and water were all one needed to make a first-rate pie crust.
I read the Little House on the Prairie series over and over as a child, an activity that always made me hungry. Even in The Long Winter, in which the Ingalls family had hardly anything to eat, Laura Ingalls Wilder made boiled potatoes sound so irresistibly delicious I’d have to get up and make some for myself.
I didn’t know The Little House Cookbook, a well-researched homage by a Little House devotee, existed when I was a kid. I didn’t need it for boiling potatoes, but I could have used it to make huckleberry pie.
I really need to start making my own pie crust. The frozen kind I buy from Trader Joe’s inevitably breaks apart when I unroll it, and piecing it back together takes some time. But at least Trader Joe’s crust is never as tough as my own.
Pour in half the berries.
Plus half of a brown sugar-flour-nutmeg mixture. In pioneer days, white sugar was much more expensive than less-processed brown.
The rest of the berries.
Followed by the rest of the sugar-flour mix.
Ready for the top crust.
Tuck the top edges under the bottom crust and seal well. If fruit pies leak in your oven, it’s a sticky mess that burns. I haven’t had problems with leaking from this pie, but to play it safe you can also put a rimmed baking tray on a rack below your pie as it bakes.
It’s very important to cut a few vents in the top crust to let steam escape. You can make a few slashes, or a design.
I didn’t realize the first time how much longer frozen blueberries would take to cook. The tiny berries actually don’t need much cooking, but the filling needs to get hot enough for the flour to cook and thicken the fruit juices. By the time I realized I should have put foil around to protect the crust edge, it was already too brown.
This is what I should have done from the start. Out of habit I tear off three strips of foil and fit them around the pie. But smart piemakers make a foil shield – start with a square of foil and cut a circle in the center – which saves the frustration of trying to get the strips of foil to hold together.
The pie crust still browns under the foil, and this time the crust edge was not so hard. You’ll know the filling is hot when you can see it bubbling through the vents. And the center of the pie should be golden.
It’s hard to see, but the little wild blueberries are very cute. And each mini berry packs a load of blueberry flavor. I like the wild Boreal blueberries from Trader Joe’s, and I’ve also bought Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries from Costco (also carried at some Walmarts).
In plentiful times, with everything available year-round at the store, it’s grounding to remember a time when we simply made do with what was available, and were grateful for it. Though it’s not hard to be grateful when what’s available is huckleberry pie.
Huckleberry (Wild Blueberry) Pie
A simple pioneer recipe adapted from The Little House Cookbook, by Barbara M. Walker. Huckleberries, which grow elusively on wooded hillsides, are impossible to find outside of huckleberry country. For those of us without the opportunity, frozen wild blueberries, tiny and flavorful, are still mighty good.
- Pie crust (top and bottom)
- 4 cups frozen wild blueberries
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Pinch nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, flour and nutmeg.
- Line a 9″ pie pan with pie crust. Fill with half the berries, then sprinkle half the sugar-flour mixture over. Add the rest of the berries, followed by the rest of the sugar-flour mixture.
- Cover with top crust and pinch around well to seal.
- Using a sharp pointed knife, cut a few slashes or a design in the top crust for steam to vent. Cover crust edge with a foil ring – start with a square of foil larger than the pie and cut a circle in the center.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake until you can see the filling bubbling through the vents (another 20-30 minutes for fresh berries; 60-80 minutes for frozen). The pie crust should be lightly golden in the center.
- Cool completely before serving. I know it’s hard to wait, but the pie filling will be less runny if you give it a chance to cool.
- For a fuller pie, use 5 cups of berries and add another 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/2 tablespoon flour. Wild blueberries, smaller and thicker-skinned than cultivated berries, release less liquid when they cook, but make sure you crimp crust well so you don’t have blueberry juice dripping all over your oven. You can also put a rimmed baking sheet on a rack below your baking pie to catch any drips.
- The pioneers wouldn’t have had fresh lemons, but you can add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like – aside from the citrus note, the acidity activates the natural pectin of the blueberries to help the filling hold together.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
Yum! I’m lucky to have access to Michigan blueberries, and I stocked up big last summer. So I have lots in my freezer, just waiting to be turned into pies, or whatever. It may not be true to pioneer style, but I like a struesel top on blueberry pie, and a touch of cinnamon added to the fruit.
me too, kathie! streusel top is my favorite, both for eating (love the sweet crumbles) and for making (less persnickety crust, ha!). lucky you, with blueberries in your freezer.
Try Kenji Alt’s recipe for pie crust (in his Serious Eats blog.) It is the best I have ever made; even better when you substitute some leaf lard for about 1/3 of the butter.
awesome tip, thanks gaill!
I am lucky to live in a area that has wild huckleberries and i bought some blueberries this summer and froze them So got on line to look for a recipe using frozenhuckle and blue berries and found your site. Will be making a pie for a pot luck going away party for our ex Fire chief Sunday night will make a picture of it and let you know how it turned out.