I was chatting with Mo Bereiter, our wildcrafter at the Millwood Farmers' Market, and I told him about my previous blog post on the sorry state of huckleberry picking in 2010. (Thanks to the International Wild Huckleberry Association for the link.)
I asked him about the best year he's had for huckleberries in the Inland Northwest and I was shocked to hear him talk about the epic year that was 1988. He explained that in the summer of '88 he and his family of five picked over 2,000 gallons of huckleberries. On one occasion they picked 141 gallons in five hours and on another they picked 210 gallons in seven hours. At times they were pulling in 7 gallons an hour per person. According to Mo, the berries were so plentiful and so big and the plants so weighted down that the berries were laying on the ground along with the rest of the bush.
Now if you've never been picking huckleberries it may be difficult to appreciate the thought of an individual picking 7 gallons in an hour. For comparison purposes, in my previous post I was effusive about the abundance of berries that produced 1/4 gallon in an hour. I have friends that regularly spend a whole week picking and usually get 7 gallons gathered by the four members of their family. Twenty gallons is a summer's harvest for the most dedicated and experienced berry pickers. 210 gallons in a day is unfathomable.
Mo said that the picking has never been as good since that banner year. He blames it on the change in forest management practices, especially the reduction in controlled burns, leading to more overgrowth in the forests. The price of a gallon of huckleberries in 1988 was around $12/gallon and Cyrus O'leary's pies was the major recipient of Mo's legendary haul. It wasn't long after '88 that Cyrus O'leary's stopped making huckleberry pies.
I've provided Rick Astley video to help you get your 1988 groove on. Astley's song, Never Gonna Give You Up, was one of the top hits of 1988.