Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Garden Huckleberry ( solanum melanoceresum )

When I was young, my mom, an avid gardener,
grew some wonderful crops that we would sell at a roadside stand on Highway 6, at the end of our farm lane

My mom was a public school teacher and principal by day.
But in her heart she was a grower. She volunteered at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington for, well, forever.
Hey-it's huckleberries!
She seeded highly unusual things, she took cuttings from public plantings (knife was always in the purse), she collected maple keys and chestnuts for planting. To wit, I have 2 interesting maples growing along the side of my driveway, from a parking lot in downtown Huntsville, produced from keys she collected probably 30 years ago. Two of my favourite trees ever, of course.

She grew tomatillos, ground cherries, vine peaches and heirloom tomatoes some 40 years ago.  And of course huckleberries.

I remember sitting around the big old harvest table in the kitchen of our farmhouse and complaining, along with everyone else.  "Mom, can't you grow anything normal?"

And one of the prime irritants was huckleberries.  She would whip up the most wonderful pancakes that can be imagined, and serve them with a huckleberry sauce.  Maple syrup, mom.  I want maple syrup!

Funny isn't it, that we end up being so much like our parents.  

Of course I LOVE growing all the things my mom used to grow now, including huckleberries.  

Garden Huckleberries are members of the solanum family, also known as the nightshade family.  If you are interested in growing a fruit that produces for you in the same year as you seed it look no further.  If you have not been blessed with an acid soil for blueberry growing, look no further.  Although huckleberries are not as versatile as blueberries because they cannot be eaten raw as is, what they are good for, they are very good for, like pies, jams and yes...sauces.

Garden huckleberries are not to be confused with the huckleberry which grows in the US, a member of heath family, a woody plant and a perennial.  Also, may I add, the state plant of Idaho.

In Southern Ontario, where I am growing, Garden Huckleberries are grown as annuals, with the same culture as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, also in the solanum family.

I start mine around the beginning of April and set my plants out in the garden when they are around 8 weeks old.  A good scoop of compost in their planting hole and they are good for the season.  Separate the plants out about 2 feet when planting and expect a plant that can grow a good 2 1/2 feet.

Each plant produces hundreds of very dark purple berries, about 1/2 inch in diameter blueberry sized fruit.  As with other fruits in this family, don't mess with them when they are unripe- they are toxic. 1 plant should produce enough fruit for 1 pie.

When the fruits go from shiny to dull, they are ready to pick.  I usually just pick mine by the sprig, then pop them off the branches when I am in the house.

We made a good bit of jam with them this year.  It is so good with plain yogourt, Hewitts Dairy brand for me here in Niagara.  The colour is astounding and the taste better yet.  I am always dazed by the selection of yogourts in the grocery store- low fat, no fat, fake flavours, colours and sweeteners. This is food?   Ahh-but no huckleberry.  Never.  You'll have to grow your own to try it!

If you need seed in 2011 I'll have it on my seed listing.  I had a great 2010 crop and saved lots of seed.

Try something a bit different!

Huckleberry Jam
Wash 3 lb fruit, add ½ pt water, and boil until the fruit bursts and is tender. Add 5 lb sugar and juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons and bring to boil. Add a knob of butter to reduce foaming, maintain a rolling boil for 2 minutes, take off heat and add 1 bottle of Certo. Bottle in sterilised bottles.

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