The Huckleberry Cookbook. By Alex & Stephanie Hester. TwoDot, 2017. Second Edition. Pp. 158. Hardcover $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4930-2836-8. Ebook. ISBN 978-1-4930-2837-5.

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The following review appeared 7 May 2018 on the Mark Twain Forum.

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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Kevin Mac Donnell

Huck Finn's name signifies an insignificant (huckleberry) Irish child (Finn). The stereotypical Irishman of the nineteenth century was a drunkard and thief, and Irish immigrants frequently were met by signs in shop windows reading "No Irish Need Apply." Although Irish women could get jobs as housekeepers, Irish males were more often hired as day laborers and rarely hired as butlers or allowed to work in a home; African-American males were more often hired as house-servants than Irish-American males. If African-Americans occupied the bottom rung of the social ladder during and after slavery, Irish-Americans, who flooded into the country in the 1840s to escape the cruelties of British rule and forced starvation (not famine), were only one rung up the ladder--which bred resentment and racism. Huck was the son of Pap Finn, the town drunk, an Irishman who need not apply, nor should his son.

None of this is mentioned in this wonderful cookbook. In fact there is no mention of Mark Twain at all even though every page glorifies huckleberries. The introduction credits Henry David Thoreau as the first American writer to seriously study the huckleberry, tracing them back to 1615 when explorer Samuel de Champlain noted that Native Americans harvested them. Next comes Captain William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) who describes them in 1806. They were used for food, for dyes, and as medicine. They were mixed with meats, and also mashed and dried and made into cakes. Early settlers took their lead from Native Americans and likewise made good use of them. During the Great Depression "huckleberry camps" attracted eager pickers, especially in the northwest, and by 1937 the huckleberry industry had developed enough to require regulation.

Not all huckleberries are the same; there are three dozen species of huckleberries in North America, and they have been mistaken for blueberries, and called by other names: hurtleberries, bilberries, dewberries, and whortleberries. Grizzly bears love them, and no wonder: the aroma of huckleberries can permeate a plastic bag (NB: double bag them when freezing them for storage). In some regions huckleberry bushes grow barely two feet high, but in other climates they grow over five feet tall. They tend to grow best on sloping ground, but thrive at both lower elevations and at 6,500 feet. Most huckleberries are smaller than blueberries, and unlike blueberries they tend to grow further apart on the bush rather than in clumps like blueberries. Anyone who has tasted fresh huckleberries and fresh blueberries knows that huckleberries will win any flavor contest hands down. Huckleberries have a balanced (not too sweet, not too sour) lingering taste and a complex texture that makes blueberries seem dull in comparison. There is nothing insignificant about huckleberries.

Recipes for huckleberries are nearly endless, and this beautifully illustrated book combines clear concise recipes with brilliant color photographs that are literally mouth-watering. For those interested in the lore of huckleberries, informational side-bars on huckleberry history and legend are sprinkled among the recipes throughout the book. Traditional recipes for jams, pies, and pancakes are included, but the reader is warned not to read this book outside of huckleberry season (which is brief, from late July to early September) unless there is a good stock of huckleberries in the freezer. Otherwise, what will you do when you see huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting, huckleberry seafood salad, grilled rib-eye with huckleberry caramelized onions, roast duck with huckleberry hoisin, baby back ribs with huckleberry BBQ sauce, pan-seared salmon with huckleberry sauce (something any bear would love), baked huckleberry doughnut holes, vichyssoise with huckleberry swirl, huckleberry crumb cake, huckleberry cobbler, huckleberry crème brulee, huckleberry frozen margaritas, or huckleberry banana smoothies? The variety of desserts, pastries, sauces, drinks, glazes, jams, spreads, appetizers, salads, breakfast items, breads, and main entrees is dazzling. Simply looking at the superb photographs without some huckleberries at the ready is torture.

Gift shops in Hannibal and Hartford and elsewhere stock huckleberry products like jams, syrups, soaps, lotions, and drinks, and this cookbook deserves a place of honor alongside such huckleberry products. Twain's last home at Stormfield was surrounded by huckleberry fields and Twain was reported to have loved huckleberry pie. Too bad he didn't have this cookbook handy, but there's no reason any Twainian foodie should have to suffer today. The wild huckleberry has yet to be domesticated and raised commercially. One of the wonderful things about huckleberries is their wildness, their boldness, and their resistance to being civilized like the blueberry. But if that day ever comes, true Twainians will light out for the territory (Trout Creek, Montana, the huckleberry capital of the world, to be exact) to pick their own. If they're smart they'll bring along a copy of this book.