Montanans take pleasure in foraging for seasonal ingredients. Guests who visited us in the spring might have enjoyed cuisine filled with flavorful morel mushrooms, gathered in the local forest. Now, the Flathead cherries have just been picked and huckleberry season is upon us. The recent heat wave means that the berries arrived early and will disappear fast thanks to foraging animals—bears and humans alike.
If you’re on the hunt for these elusive berries and you find a berry-rich hill, it’s a good idea to pick as many as you possibly can. We suggest reserving some for fresh uses, while divvying up the majority between preserves and freezer containers so that the sweet grape-like smell can linger in your kitchen year-round.
There are several types of huckleberries, but the two types that grow in our region of the Rockies are the black huckleberry, or Vaccinium membranaceum, and the blue Cascade huckleberry, with the fitting name of Vaccinium deliciosum.
Huckleberries grow on small, mountain bushes that float just a few feet above the ground, making them labor intensive to pick. They are favored by bears, who either grasp the berries in bunches or strip the berries from the branches by pulling the entire branch through their mouth, leaves and all.
Although grizzly bears don’t call the The Ranch at Rock Creek home and black bear sightings are rare, we have a drink on the Great Room menu that might beckon our ursine friends to cocktail hour. The Bear Trap features local ingredients, like huckleberry preserves, fresh sage and our favorite regional vodka.
The Ranch at Rock Creek’s Great Room
Take a sip and see if it tastes like summer to you. If you follow it up with a salmon steak and some root vegetables, you’ll be in good company with one of Montana’s most treasured animals.
The Ranch at Rock Creek’s Bear Trap Cocktail
1.5 oz of 44° North Idaho Huckleberry Vodka, or other local vodka
2-3 sage leaves, muddled
½ oz of fresh lemon juice
1 heaping spoonful of huckleberry preserves, about 2 tsp
1. Combine vodka, huckleberries, lemon juice and sage leaves in a cocktail shaker, half-filled with ice.
2. Shake vigorously until combined.
3. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
4. Add club soda until glass is full.
5. Before garnishing, slap the sage leaf between your palms. This will stir up the leaf’s essential oils and enhance the leaf’s fragrance.
6. Garnish with a sage leaf and serve.
Craving more cocktails? View our recipes for Pintler Punch and the Grand Fashioned.