In northeast Iowa, lunch was any meal served between breakfast and dinner or supper. On summer evenings, a visit to Grandpa Ott’s farm would end with lunch even it was 11 o’clock at night. When we smelled coffee boiling on the stove, it was time to go into the kitchen. Grandpa would get out his homemade wurst—he did his own butchering and smoked the sausage—and he also mixed horseradish with vinegar, sugar, and cream to serve alongside.
Most memorable was his “garden huckleberry” jam. He would harvest the berries when they were the size of a blueberry and a dull purple, often after a light frost. The berries were not so tasty to eat fresh from the garden—but when Grandma Ott cooked them and added sugar, a deep purple beautiful fruit appeared.
Grandpa was one of the first in the neighborhood in the 1960s to grow garden huckleberries, and he thought they were exotic growing next to the garden necessities. Although not common then, when I checked the web today I found recipes on sites like Epicurus and Bon Appétit for huckleberry pies, cheesecake, compotes, jam, jelly, muffins, chutneys, and shrubs. Recognized health benefits of the fruit include being rich in iron, potassium, antioxidants, and vitamins C, A, and B. Garden huckleberries are very productive, can be grown in containers, and add beauty to edible landscapes.
I am sharing my family’s simple recipes from lunch in Grandpa and Grandma Ott’s kitchen.
Makes about six half-pint jars.
Put berries in pan and crush with a potato masher, add pectin and lemon juice, bring to a full rolling boil, and cook for one minute. Add sugar and butter and boil hard for one minute. Skim off any foam, fill clean jars, and follow the directions to process jam in a water bath. I prefer to make the jam as directed and, instead of processing it in a water bath, freezing it in jars, making sure to leave more head space.
“This sauce can be served with Johnny cakes, pancakes, ice cream, or cake, and I use it as a glaze for brie cheese, venison, or pork tenderloin,” says Diane. “Sometimes Grandma Ott would mix it with diced apples. A pinch of baking soda helps take any bitterness away. The berries may appear emerald green at that point—but add lemon juice, and they turn bright purple.”
In a medium saucepan, combine berries, soda, and water. Stir mixture and bring it to a boil; simmer five minutes, stirring constantly. Add cornstarch and lemon juice. Bring to boil, and turn down and simmer for a few minutes longer until clear and thickened. Cool and store in refrigerator.
“This was my invention as well as my children’s favorite huckleberry recipe,” says Diane. “It’s great for topping pancakes or adding to sparkling water for a refreshing spritzer.”
Dissolve cornstarch in a small bowl with ¼ cup water, set aside. Put berries, water, and a pinch of baking soda in a pan. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove mixture from heat, pour it into a strainer, and extract juice. Return juice to pan, then add sugar (or honey) and lemon juice. Bring mixture to a boil, add cornstarch, and continue cooking until it is thickened and clear. Cool and store syrup in refrigerator.