Friday, August 25, 2006

Huckleberry Hunt

I’m busy practicing and packing for my trip to the Cooking Light Reader Recipe Contest, so I’ll do one last report on the food we had out West.

When I travel, I like to absorb the local atmosphere. I always read the local newspaper (I majored in journalism, so I feel lost without my morning paper). And I like to sample the local fare, whether that means going to locally owned restaurants or eating dishes unique to that area.

In the Western United States, the huckleberry is the most famous (or, at least, the most heavily marketed) native berry. As a result, I made it my aim to taste some authentic huckleberry fare.

I did eat huckleberry ice cream at two tourist attractions - Yellowstone Bear World and Mountain River Ranch. At both places, it was a pretty lavender-colored ice cream with a dark purple swirl. It was tasty; I’d describe the flavor as a sweet cross between grape and blueberry. My hunch was that this ice cream probably was artificially flavored, so I kept looking for the real taste of huckleberries.

When we were at the Mammoth Dining Room in Yellowstone (which, by the way, was our best dining experience in the park), I spotted a huckleberry skillet sweetbread on the breakfast menu. It sounded like just what I was looking for, but the menu indicated that we should “allow extra time for this item” – and the waitress mentioned that the kitchen was short staffed. I suppressed my foodie inclinations and had the breakfast buffet, giving us more time to traverse the Mammoth Hot Springs.

Throughout Yellowstone and the surrounding area, I spotted all kinds of really expensive huckleberry goods – huckleberry jelly, syrup, taffy, candy, lip balm, and so on. But they all appeared to be mass produced for the tourist trade, which doesn’t bode well for their culinary value. I did purchase huckleberry lip balm (the dry atmosphere was killer on my skin) and huckleberry muffin mix as a souvenir for a friend (although I haven’t parted with it yet). But I kept looking for something that looked a little less mass produced, and maybe a little more reasonably priced.

In the end, my search was all for naught. I never did get that bona fide huckleberry experience. I guess I’ll just take comfort in my lip balm and imagine what could have been.

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