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Garden Huckleberry

December 3, 2007

Hey folks,

I thought Id mention a new crop which we tried this year. I think itÂs a hit. ItÂs called Garden Huckleberry, but itÂs not in the blueberry family at all. ItÂs an annual and itÂs in the night shade family. Garden Huckleberry is relative pest resistant. My only challenge was with blister beetles and errant goats reaching over the garden fence. This plant is started and grown just like peppers, though it is more cold tolerant (even slightly frost tolerant) than either tomatoes or peppers. The plants attained a height of about 3 ½ feet and required no support. They were roughly of the same stature as a large pepper plant. Each plant produces at least enough fruit to make a pie.

IÂve decided not to try blueberries here in our area. The climate and soil are not ideal and it seems that they need to be on artificial life support (drip irrigation, etc.). Also, Garden Huckleberries are grown as an annual. So thereÂs no waiting till the bushes reach maturity. I got mature fruit in 74 days, after a very late transplanting (May 26). I found great pleasure in this plant as it was relatively trouble free and very vigorous, producing fruit right until frost. ItÂs very heat tolerant and needed no irrigation through the hottest, dries part of the summer.

So why isnÂt this plant grown more widely? I believe itÂs because you donÂt just stroll through the garden plucking handfuls of succulent blue berry type fruit and eating them as you go. Eaten fresh out of hand they have slightly more flavor than those artificial (plastic) grapes one sometimes observes on display tables. In order to bring out their flavor one needs to cook them for about 45 minutes adding baking soda, lemon juice and sugar. IÂll include the recipe I got, from Sandhill Preservation Center, below. But once this is done they are so similar to cooked blueberries that IÂm sure you could fool someone who wasnÂt expecting something different. WeÂve had them over ice cream but still havenÂt gotten around to a pie. IÂm sure theyÂll make a good jam. Presently, most of our harvest is frozen awaiting processing.


IÂm definitely going to grow this one again. If anyone is interested, seed can be obtained through Sandhill Preservation Center

Place 8 cups of berries in a non-aluminum one gallon size pan and add enough water to not quite cover the fruit. As they begin to boil add a total of 1/3 cup of baking soda (a little at a time) and stir continuously. As you add baking soda, green foam will appear. After adding the baking soda, cook for 10 minutes at a low boil. The mixture will continue to foam quite a bit as the berries are cooking. After they have cooked for 10 minutes, drain this solution off and rinse with clean water. The berries will still be somewhat hard. Next return the pan of berries to the stove, add 1/3 cup water and ½ cup of lemon juice. Watch with amazement as the mixture changes from emerald green to a royal purple color. Cook an additional 35 minutes until the berries are tender and then add 2 ¾ cups of sugar, 1 ½ tablespoons lemon extract, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ cup of tapioca. Pour the above mixture into two 8 inch unbaked pie shells, the add a top crust or lattice and bake as you would a blueberry pie. You can also eat the sauce or use it as an ice cream topping.


Tahlequah, OK

Comments (28)

  • denninmi


    Thank you for posting this -- it was quite interesting. I tried growing them two years ago, but never achieved anything vaguely edible after trying to process them. No matter what I did, they tasted like sweetened, boiled grass, yuck! Your instructions are much more specific than any I've ever seen anywhere else, and the part about using the baking soda is new to me, I've not seen that anywhere. Apparently, the highly alkaline baking soda must react with the chemicals in the berries and effect some changes.

    A question, though -- does this amount of baking soda leave the finished product tasting salty? I would have to be careful with that -- everyone in my house is on sodium restricted diets. I wonder if the same results could be achieved using lime, Calcium carbonate, like some pickling lime or some crushed up fruit-flavored tums?

    Perhaps I'll have to give them a third chance next year. Their second chance came this year, when some of them volunteered. I didn't pull them, but I didn't try to use them, either.

    One other use I did come up with for them -- they make a nice cut novelty berry for fall arrangements.

    The use of chemistry in cooking is something we don't think about anymore -- our ancestors had to find ways to make things edible by processing them in some strange ways which we no longer do, like soaking corn in lye to make hominy, or processing the toxins out of plants like manioc/tapioca to make them safe to eat -- it was this or starve. We have it easy -- open a can of something which was pre-processed for you. I personally made an interesting observation the other day about the chemistry of plant tissue in the kitchen -- while cooking with some persimmon pulp, I found out I was able to change it rapidly from orange to almost jet black by the addition of baking soda, and then change it back again to orange by adding citric acid, and almost any color in betwee by varying the amount of acid or base used, sort of like homemade litmus paper. Not practical, but interesting none the less.

  • Macmex

    It didn't taste salty at all, but rather almost exactly like blueberries. I wouldn't know about using lime. I suppose first one should succeed with the proven recipe and then experiment from there.

    Other than that the recipe uses some much sugar, lemon juice and time, I'd say it is quite comparable to making the same thing with blueberries.

    I saved some seed from the fruit. Next year I'll experiment with the fermentation process for processing good clean, plentiful seed. It would be nice if the plants volunteer. I had them right next to the tomatillos, so I'll be keeping a sharp eye on that corner of the garden.


  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    George, my dad liked those huckleberries and we grew them several years. I grew them later and had volunteers come up for years.

    We learned to mash the berries thourghly [ground cherries too] to make a smoother and sweeter pie. They sure make your tongue purple!

    If anyone is concerned about nightshade mix-ups....the garden huckleberry is larger and the fruit is borne sticking up rather than small berries hanging down like nightshade.

  • tomakers

    Denninmi, not to kidnap the thread, but how do you eat persimmons? I was given some as a gift and they are sitting on my kitchen table ripening. Can they be eaten raw? I feel I should eat them somehow, as the giver thinks they are a great treat. She is Cambodian and a wonderful person but, communication is a problem. I have received them in the past and had to tell her I enjoyed them even though I never touched them before they went bad. HELP.

  • laceyvail

    You can eat persimmons raw, but they must be dead ripe.

  • Macmex

    Tom, persimmons are ripe when they are soft and squishy to touch. Usually the American persimmon is at that point right after frost and begins falling off the tree at that point.

    She's right, they are wonderful! We have a big persimmon tree in our back pasture. I have been putting up fence around it, in order to try to get some. But the horses and goats break down the fence, trying to get them (and they do).

    I like them raw, like fruit. But my wife also de-pulps them and uses the pulp for a pudding desert. If you should be interested in the recipe, let me know.


  • denninmi

    I agree with most of the above comments on eating and using persimmons. To clarify a little bit more, how and when to eat them depends SPECIFICALLY upon the variety. There are 2 species common eaten as "Persimmons" and 3 types.

    The North American native species, Diospyros virginiana, American Persimmon, is highly astringent due to tannins, which break down when the fruit is completely ripe. These fruits are small, probably about the size of a golf ball or smaller. As the above posters have stated, the fruit must be squishy soft and fall from the tree on its own, or come off pretty easily without too much pressure. At this stage, it will be orange-brown, with perhaps some dark or purplish tinges, but shouldn't be moldy. If the fruit isn't quite ripe enough, as ascertained by tasting -- you'll know if your mouth puckers from the tannins, kind of like drinking very strong tea -- it can be ripened in a warm place.

    AMERICAN PERSIMMONS are ok to eat as a fresh fruit if you like them -- they sort of taste like a cross between a date and an apricot, with honey or caramel overtones -- but are primarily used as an ingredient in things like cakes, cookies, puddings, pie fillings. Actually, in my opinion, persimmon is pretty interchangeable with pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato in any recipe, and many recipes using them tend to use a lot of spices you would associate with pumpkin pie -- ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice. I've baked with it, and I haven't used it in this way, but it would probably make a good smoothie or milkshake, especially a pumpkin pie flavored milkshake with the above mentioned spices and some vanilla ice cream.

    I was just researching this on the internet -- in Japan, fruits are ripened in 24 hours by placing in a warmed (about 90 degree) chamber with elevated levels of carbon dioxide and a little ethanol vapor -- I'm going to try ripening some by putting them in a plastic storage container with a little square of dry ice and a few tablespoons of vodka in the bottom, and putting it near my heat register for a day.

    The other species of persimmon is Diospyros kaki, Asian Persimmon, which also goes by the name of Kaki, Sharon Fruit, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean Persimmon. This is the species commercially grown in California, Texas, and a few other places in the US. These fruits are much larger than the American, up to three or four inches across. THERE ARE TWO TYPES -- ASTRINGENT AND NON-ASTINGENT. THIS IS PROBABLY WHAT YOUR FRIEND HAS GIVEN TO YOU.

    The fruits of the ASTRINGENT types MUST be fully ripened, squishy soft and transluscent, before eating. The main type of ASTRINGENT fruit available in supermarkets is called HICHAYA, and is shaped like an acorn.

    The fruits of the NON-ASTRINGENT types can be eaten at any stage of orange, and in fact, are quite good when hard and crunchy. The main commercial variety sold in stores is called FUYU, and is broad and flat, about three or four inches wide and perhaps an inch to two inches deep -- think a flattish, orange tomato. You can eat them very crunch, semi-crunch, or let them get soft and squishy, whatever your preference.

    I buy quite a few Fuyu type persimmons every year at the grocery store, mostly to eat fresh. They are good in mixed fruit salads, dinner salads, etc. My personal preference is to eat them at a semi-soft state, not too crunchy, not too squishy. I have baked and cooked with Hichayas before, too -- they're about the same as using the American persimmons. Probably would be good in a smoothy, although I've not tried this.

    To ripen your persimmons, if they are the astringent type that need it, put them somewhere warm, like on top of the refrigerator. I have, at times, had astringent persimmons from the grocery store which NEVER ripened properly enough to lose their astringency, no matter what I did, but this doesn't happen very often. I think sometimes they were either picked too green or handled improperly, probably stored too long in cold storage.

  • fliptx

    You guys are making me crave persimmons (heh I typed permissions at first). They're usually so expensive at the store.

    Interesting about the huckleberries. I've never eaten them but they sound like half food, half science experiment, with the baking soda treatment!

  • petrowizard

    Wait, stop, lets go back to this huckleberry. You persimmon folks go start another thread :)

    I'm most intrigued. How's the yield on these fellows, and how do the berries ripen, all at once or a few at a time? In other words, to acquire 8 cups of berries to process, how many plants are required? Or do the berries hold for a while in the fridge?

    How about birds? Do the plants require some protection or is the tasteless nature of the berries enough?

    And how would you make jam? I don't believe I've ever seen a recipe for garden huckleberry jam.


  • Macmex

    I got eight cups of berries off of six plants on my first picking. Unfortunately, I didn't get to accurately observe how they do under normal conditions, since our goats took to reaching over the fence and eating them, plants, berries and all. Nevertheless, the plants, with the first cooler weather in late summer, made a great comeback. They loaded up with berries again.

    I believe the berries hold pretty well. I had a cup of them on the kitchen counter, for weeks before they started to first, dry down, and then spoil. I had set them aside for seed, but didn't know just how to extract it.

    Birds didn't bother my garden huckleberries in the least. I didn't have to cover them at all.

    I have yet make jam. However, when we made them like a topping for ice cream I suspect that all they lacked was some pectin in order that the mixture set up as a good jam. We simply followed the recipe at the top of the thread. That gave us a fine topping. I've heard that, as is, it makes a good pie filling.

    Thanks for asking. Soon as I get a "round tuit" I'll try making some jam and let you all know. We actually just took our last berries and dropped them into a bag in the freezer. I suspect they'll still cook up fine.


  • pnbrown

    The leaves and blossoms look very similar to pepper. Does it taste anything like black currant when cooked as you described?

  • alan8

    In South Alabama, we have a bush that grows wild in the woods that looks very similar. We call them Huckleberries but who knows what the real name is. I've also heard them called "Puckleberry". Deer love them. They really taste good althought they are very small. The insides are kind of textured, almost gritty but delicious. This must be a hybrid or relative of the wild bush?

  • petrowizard

    Thanks George for the reply. My mother is a great jam maker (and eater) so I'm always on the hunt for fruit.

    More questions that come to mind, were the six plants the total number you planted and what was your total yield for the season? That would give me a minimum figure considering the goats.

    Also what's your guestimate on the size/quantity of the seeds? I am thinking about jam here, and large, seedy jams aren't generally appreciated around here. For example, raspberries make a delectable jam, but the seeds are just a little too abundant, too small to get out, but too large to be ignored, and some of the jam recipients tend to worry about their sharp, pointy nature.

    You compared them to peppers as far as growing conditions. Are they about the same as peppers regarding germination time, heating requirements for starting media and growth rates? I'm thinking about seed starting times for transplants.


  • Macmex


    I doubt that the "puckerberry" is the same thing as garden huckleberry, for the reason that GH simply does not taste good until you cook it with the proper ingredients. I've eaten a few raw but found no reason to repeat the performance. They're not disagreeable, but neither are they agreeable.

    Petro, we haven't gone through our log to tally up the total yield for the season. In that log we keep track of milk, eggs, meat, fruit, honey and vegetable production; so it's going to be a job. Also, my plants got mowed by the goats, so their production was set back pretty good. We were fortunate to have a mild fall, so they did make a second crop. I made note in my own notes that I'd like to try a June planting (from seed) for a fall crop, in the coming year. But I will start a fair number about 6 weeks before our last predicted frost date.

    The seeds of the garden huckleberry are quite small, as to be unnoticeable.

    The plant starts up like peppers or tomatoes. But my impression is that it doesn't have to have as much warmth, either to germinate or to grow. The plants definitely withstood some light frost this fall, and I've read that the seedlings can go out a little earlier than tomatoes, for the same reason.

    They really loaded up with fruit. I'd guestimate that one plant will cover about 30" square and produce about as much fruit for the space as a raspberry or blackberry (blue berry for that matter).

    PnBrown, it's been over 30 years since I've tasted a black currant. I cannot remember well enough to tell you. But I can say that they did taste A LOT like blueberries. The only slight difference I detected was that I would say that real cooked blueberry is slightly more acid. Perhaps we could have tweaked the recipe and corrected that.

    I called Sandhill Preservation to compliment them on the garden huckleberry. Linda Drowns chatted with me briefly. She commented that they once took a blueberry and a Garden Huckleberry pie to Glenn's mother (I believe), for a taste test. Apparently she was quite into fruit pies. She chose the garden huckleberry pie over the real blueberry pie. If I could snap my fingers and have one or the other growing successfully, at a mature size, ready to produce, and guaranteed to do it in this coming year, I'd choose the real blueberry. But since the real blueberry is challenged so much by our soil, heat and drought; and the garden huckleberry is not, I'll grow the later.

    The one great disadvantage to the garden huckleberry is that it requires so much sugar, along with the lemon juice and baking soda, to render a tasty product.

    My wife would like me to grow about 70 or 80 of these in the coming year. Im going to give it a go, since they were so trouble free. This is one of those gratifying plants for our conditions (others are cowpeas, sweet potatoes, peppers & Mesquakie Indian corn) because it defends itself against Bermuda grass and weeds and requires little attention for a good reward.

  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    I agree with George that the berries require sweetening as they are fairly tart tasting...they make you smack your lips when eating huckleberry pie...so if you like a bit of pleasant bite, they may be for you.

  • petrowizard

    George, you've sold me. It certainly sounds like the garden huckleberry is worth an experimental season. Unfortunately, I don't have 10 acres to play with, and end up growing some things in 5 gallon buckets. So I have to plan carefully for seed starting, planting space and yield. But from your description, it sounds like the GH may just thrive in a bucket and I'm looking forward to a new garden experiment. Thanks for all the information, and I hope to hear more in the future about your jam.


  • mmqc101

    Obviously, if you're getting green foam, you have picked the huckleberries too soon. When ripe they are uniformly a deep blue black. In fact, they may be mildly poisonous if still green. When they are ripe, you do not need to use baking soda or even lemon juice, just berries, water and sugar.

  • rvgramma

    Just wondering if I am correct that the huckleberries never pull easily even when they are ripe for picking? I have left some on the branch that are very dark black/blue for weeks and they still pull hard and I have to destem most of them.

  • Macmex

    you know, I haven't grown them for several years and I don't recall if the stems pull off easily at picking. Are the berries good and black?

  • rvgramma

    Yes they are very dark. As soon as I get enough to experiment with, I will cook them and see if they cook up without the green foam. I am an ambassador at The Botanic Garden in Stillwater and got the plants from there. I had never even seen huckleberries before so this is an experiment. So far I love growing them!!

  • Pumpkin (zone 10A)

    These grow wild in my yard. The birds spread the seeds and pick all of the fruit the minute it is ripe, before I can get to it. I never watered mine or did anything and it grew in terrible soil where weeds don't even grow. It was impressive!

  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    Garden Huckleberries are NOT Wonderberries. There seems to be confusion on just what is the real deal. Garden Huckleberries are large, purple, firm, and grow in a cluster with the blossom ends POINTING upward.

  • Pumpkin (zone 10A)

    Not according to Native Seed/SEARCH. They show the berries with blossom end pointing down.

  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    I raised them for some years from the old Garden Catalogs like Shumway. They seem to have dropped them any more. The photo at the top is close, but not quite like the usual picture of them.

  • bcskye

    Pulled up this old thread because I bought a packet of the seed for this huckleberry and I wanted to get more information on them. I'm not getting younger and this may be my last year on my place so I wanted some fruit that I could get by the end of the season. I've learned so much from the posts on here and I'm going to start them inside either this evening or tomorrow. Originally I planned on just a few of the 30 seeds, but after all I've read, I'll plant all of them. I got my seed from Baker Creek and they d state that the green fruits are poisonous and to eat only the fully ripe fruits which are soft, juicy and very dark purple/black. I love pie, but I can just see the beautiful preserves and toppings I'll get from them. Thanks everyone!


  • prput68

    I've been wanting to try Huckleberry for some time now. I ordered some seed not long ago and am going to try them this year. I hope they will grow in my area. We have some relation in northern Arkansas that introduced us to them and they were very tasty.

  • wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

    It seems that there is huckleberry bushes, wonderberries [these are NOT huckleberries], and garden huckleberries. Garden huckleberries are larger with the blossom end sticking up...not hanging down.

  • farmerdill

    FWIW. Garden huckleberry is in the genus Solanum. Looks like a larger version of the Black Nightshade.Flowering and growth pattern very similar. Huckleberry in the south refers to a blueberry relative. Tastes like a blue berry but has lots of tiny seeds so that they have a gritty texture. There are plants called huckle berry in both the genus Vaccinium and Gaylussacia. The common name has a broad use and may be a different plant in different regions. For those interested, the south is native to another huckleberry look alike Sparkleberry/Farkelberry Vaccinium arboreum . http://www.augustaga.gov/1634/Sparkleberry Wonderberry/Sunberry is also a Solanum but a different species. It was supposedly hybridized by Luther Burbank in the early 1900's.We still see it listed as either Solanum retro flexum or Solanum x burbankii One of the parents was Solanum nigrum guineense The older synonym for Garden Huckleberry. http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/garden-huckleberry/

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