About the middle of July every year, I keep my fingers crossed when I go to farmers markets, hoping I’ll find huckleberries for sale. This year, I let go a loud “Yippee” on the second Saturday of the month. I bought a 1-pound bag, nibbled on some, and the rest of the berries soon found their way into a batch of muffins. The following week I splurged and bought a 5-pound bag of huckleberries.
That expenditure called for a grand celebration, TFHPOTS: The First Huckleberry Pie Of The Season. Not a great acronym, but it works. Each time I make this pie, I think back to our first summer in Missoula when we became initiated in the huckleberry mystique. Our new neighbors described what the bushes and berries looked like and suggested where to go picking. Yes, picking. No one was selling huckleberries then.
With buckets in hand, and our two young sons in tow, we traipsed up a mountainside on a hot July afternoon hunting for something we’d never seen before. But then we found our El Dorado: A patch of bushes bearing small berries glimmering like jewels in the sun. Scrambling onto the ground, we began plucking and tasting the fruit.
Instantly we understood what the fuss was all about. A spicy, luscious tartness introduced our taste buds to something utterly new and wild-tasting. We had to have more. “Not so fast guys,” my wife cautioned. “We need 5 cups for a pie.” So plunk, plunk, plunk, went the berries into our pails. Eventually that echoey sound became a pleasing silence as the berries rose ever higher in our pails.
When I bake huckleberry pie I serve it plain. I know that ice cream or whipped cream go great with many pies, but huckleberries are stars that need no supporting players. My favorite pastry is made with a combination of butter and leaf lard. Rendering the waxy fat around pork kidneys produces this terrific lard. In the recipe headnote, there’s a link to where you can order the lard online. Happy baking!
You can use fresh or partially thawed frozen huckleberries for this pie. Frozen wild Maine blueberries are also great. Check the frozen fruit sections in supermarkets for availability. Leaf lard (from around the kidney) is my preferred second fat for the pie crust. Lacking a local source, I order mine online (see https://artofthepie.com/where-to-get-leaf-lard/ for sources). If you want to skip the lard, refrigerated Earth Balance, in sticks, is a fine substitute. Or just use all butter in the pastry.
Makes 1 pie, 8 servings
2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measuring cups to overflowing and sweep off excess with a straight edge)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 cups (a scant 1 3/4 pounds) fresh or partially thawed frozen huckleberries
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar for top of pie
1. To make the pastry, stir together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter pieces and work them into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the lard or shortening and work it into the flour until the pieces are about the same size as the butter pieces. Combine the ice water and vinegar in a small cup. Add to the dry ingredients about 1 tablespoon at a time while tossing with a fork. Continue mixing until the dough just gathers into a ball. Divide the dough into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten each into 1-inch-thick disks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Roll the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12- to 13-inch circle and fit it into a 9-inch pie plate (ovenproof glass preferable). Gently nudge the pastry into the pan without stretching. The pastry should fit snugly onto the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim away overhanging pastry to within 1/2-inch of the pan’s rim. Refrigerate.
2. To make the filling, combine the 1 cup sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Add the huckleberries (if frozen, be sure berries are half-thawed before using) and lemon juice and fold everything together gently to combine well. Let stand 15 minutes. (It’s important to do this to soften the tapioca).
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, and set a heavy baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. While the filling stands, assemble the pie. On a lightly floured surface, roll the second piece of dough into an 11-inch circle. Spoon the huckleberry filling into the cold pastry-lined pan and dome it slightly. Distribute the butter pieces evenly over the filling. Use a pastry brush to moisten the edges of the bottom pastry and cover with the top pastry. Press edges together firmly, fold it back on itself to make a standing rim and flute. Brush the top of the pastry lightly with water — try to avoid making little pools of water — and make 5 or 6 slits for steam to escape. Sprinkle top evenly with 1 tablespoon sugar.
4. Put the pie onto the heavy baking sheet and bake 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the pie juices bubble thickly through the slits, about 50 minutes more. Cool the pie completely, at least several hours, before cutting and serving. If you cut the pie too soon, the filling will run all over the place. You can hasten the setting of the filling by refrigerating the pie for 3 to 4 hours after it has become warm.
Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.