HUCKLEBERRY (Solanum nigrum var. Guineense, or S. Intrusum )
The story of “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, conjures up images of Grizzly Bears in North Western America, munching on Huckleberries, the fruit of a perennial evergreen shrub!
The Garden Huckleberry, however, has no connection whatever to North America, apart from the fact that the seed is usually sourced from Canada. The Garden Huckleberry is an annual grown from seed each year, native to the semi-tropics of Western Africa! Rather surprisingly, it can cope with a very light air frost without serious damage, but much more than that will decimate the plant. Apparently, there is a Garden Huckleberry hybridised variant called the Wonderberry, that is alleged to have superior sweetness and flavour, but I have never seen it available in this country.
The seeds need to be sown in early March in our climate, in pots in heat or at least in a cool frost free greenhouse.
They should be transplanted to their final position, in any reasonable soil, when about 15 - 20 cm high, and placed some 60 cm apart in late May or early June, once all danger of frost is past. Treat them like half-hardy annuals.
The full grown plants have a very curious shape, rather like a small circular coffee table, with a central stem and a flat top. They develop up to a metre high and wide. Short canes would help to keep the plants upright and keep the fruit off the ground.
The fruit berries start to form in July or August, and are carried in clusters from the spreading branches, and eventually reach the size of a large Blackcurrant.
The berries should not be picked until they have changed in colour from green to blue-black, and have softened. It is suggested that it is often better to wait until the first frosts before picking. Do not try and eat them raw as they are sour and will never sweeten naturally, but they are not poisonous. One plant should produce about a litre measure of ripe huckleberries.
Pests and diseases are not usually a problem, though you may have to net them against the birds. At least they do not suffer from Blight!
Suggested uses for Huckleberries include, Huckleberry Ice Cream, Huckleberry Wine, Huckleberry Jam, Huckleberry Crumble, Huckleberry Pie, Huckleberry Chutney, and a Huckleberry syrup for pouring over Pancakes and Waffles.
As I have very mixed feelings about the culinary worth of Huckleberries, I will not be rushing to grow them again! They need a great deal of sugar to make them palatable, and much lemon juice added for jam making. Once cooked, I would describe the colour of the liquid as a rather curious violet, or the colour of dilute “Quink Ink”! They certainly have novelty use in Huckleberry Ice Cream!!
Storage of Huckleberries, is best carried out in the freezer.
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