It could be the distance and inaccessibility, or it could be good old fashioned yearning, but I desperately miss huckleberries. The huckleberries I know and love do not exist in California, or at least not anywhere I’ve been looking…and I’ve been LOOKING, trust me.
The huckleberries that left a Mt. Rainer sized hole in my heart grow in the majestic PNW, specifically in Northern Idaho and Montana. These berries are wild. They literally cannot be tamed. It’s nearly impossible to farm them, and that might just be why they taste so hucking good.
A few years back, my friend Scott posted a picture of his award winning Huckleberry Pie, flooding my mind with huckleberry spotted memories. I’ve had a hopeless hankering for huckleberries and his blue ribbon pie since.
Early September while visiting my family in Spokane, I turned into an honest to goodness Huckleberry Hound, scouring farmers markets and specialty grocers for fresh or even frozen huckleberries. I would have done just about anything to get my hands on a few lbs of wild huckleberries, but as it turns out, the bears got their paws on all of the huckleberries long before I began hunting. Spokane was plum out of huckleberries but I never gave up hope.
On the drive from Spokane to Portland, I begged my husband to make a pitstop at the Country Mercantile just outside of the Tri Cities in Washington. It’s a Costco-sized country market full of local produce, preserved and pickled everything, and an impressive selection of salsas. There were no huckleberries in sight so I settled for a the next best thing, a jar of Huckleberry Jam.
On a whim, we asked the cashier if they happen to have any frozen huckleberries hiding in a back freezer. I think he saw the desperation in my eyes and said he’d speak with the manager. The kindhearted cashier and manger returned with a 5 lb. bag of frozen huckleberries they’d been saving to make huckleberry ice cream but said they could sell it to me. Deal heat got the best of me and said yes before realizing the cost of huckleberries basically translates to purple gold. Maybe they were more of opportunists than friendly small town folk, but either way I got my huckleberries, finally.
Huckleberries aren’t the only thing I pine for daily, the fresh baked Jammers from Grand Central Bakery in Portland, OR are always on my mind. I’ve been making them at home for years and the recipe is from the GCB Baking Book is A+. But there is something magical about ordering a Jammer still warm from the early morning bake, lovingly prepared by the skilled hands of a GCB baker.
The ambiance plays into it too. Nothing beats walking a few blocks on a dark, drizzly, cold Portland morning with nothing more than a hoodie to keep the rain off your head, crossing through the doors of Grand Central Bakery to be greeted by the aroma of baking bread and a warm smile, then sitting down in a moodily lit, quiet corner with a warm Jammer and a hot cup of strong black coffee. Those moments simply don’t happen here in Santa Barbara. The sun is always shining bright, the coffee is never quite as strong, and the bakeries just aren’t Grand Central Bakery.
Back to the berries. I was so busy in Portland that I didn’t have time to bake. The berries are currently residing in the freezer at my Mother In Law’s place in Portland. I realize what an absolute travesty this is, and to this day, I honestly can’t look directly at myself in the mirror.
Since I screwed the (huckleberry) hound, I had to come up with a way to redeem myself. I am grateful for one thing; having the foresight to buy that jar of huckleberry jam. I used it to combine two treats that I miss dearly from the PNW and made Huckleberry Jammers, based off of the Grand Central Baking Book. If I could only choose one cookbook to take to a desert island, it would be The Grand Central Baking book. It is my original inspiration and introduction into the world of baking and will forever be among my most treasured kitchen tools.
Piper Davis, the co-owner and cuisine manager for GCB, developed this genius recipe for Jammers. She is a straight shooter with a passion for food that runs marrow-deep. She is my baking muse and continually impresses and inspires me with her dedication to all things food. If we had more Grand Central Bakeries and Piper’s in the world, I guarantee it would be a happier and much tastier place.
This recipe is for Huckleberry Jammers is based on the original recipe for Grand Central Bakery Jammers from the GCB Baking book with a few minor tweaks. The recipe calls for buttermilk, but I hardly ever end up using all of the buttermilk when I buy it, so I subbed the buttermilk for tangy Greek yogurt; something I always have in stock. I also like to incorporate a light sprinkling of Maldon salt flakes on top of the jammers just before baking. This amps up the savoriness and shines the sweet light on the jam. Then, I incorporate fresh lemon zest and a spritz of lemon juice to the jam. This brightens up the jam and brings a zesty bite of freshness.
Even if you aren’t a confident baker, this recipe for Huckleberry Jammers will boost your confidence and make you feel like the real deal. I knew nothing about baking the first time I made these, and thanks to Piper’s step-by-step instructions, they baked up beautifully.
If you miss something hard enough, improvise and make it happen for yourself. Where there is a will there is a way. There just may not be fresh huckleberries within 1000 miles.
- all-purpose flour - 4 cups
- granulated sugar - 3 tablespoons
- baking powder - 2 teaspoons
- salt - 1 1/2 teaspoons
- baking soda - 1 teaspoon
- cold unsalted butter - 1 cup (2 sticks)
- buttermilk or Greek yogurt - 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups
- huckleberry jam (or you other favorite jam flavor) - about 3/4 cup
- lemon (optional) - 1 small
- Maldon sea salt flakes (for topping) - optional - 1 teaspoon
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
- Pour 3/4 cup of Huckleberry Jam into a small bowl, add the zest and juice of 1 small lemon and stir until mixed. Set aside.
- Measure the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl with high sides, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk to combine.
- Dice the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Use your hands or the paddle attachment of the stand mixer on low speed to blend the butter into the dry ingredients until the texture of the flour changes from silky to mealy. There should still be dime- to quarter-sized pieces of butter remaining. If you’re preparing the dough the night before, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill overnight; otherwise proceed with the recipe.
- Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in 1 cup of yogurt or buttermilk in one addition. Gently mix the dough just until it comes together; it will look rough. Scrape the dough from the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add up to another 1/4 cup of yogurt or buttermilk, mixing to incorporate any floury scraps. The majority of the dough will come together on the paddle if you are using a stand mixer. Stop mixing while there are still visible chunks of butter and floury patches.
- The dough should come out of the bowl in 2 to 3 large, messy clumps, leaving only some small scraps and flour around the sides of the bowl. If the dough is visibly dry and crumbly, add up to 1/4 cup more buttermilk or yogurt, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing no more than one rotation after each addition. Don't overmix here.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Use the heels and sides of your palms to gather the dough and gently pat it into an oblong shape 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. It won’t look smooth or particularly cohesive; that’s okay. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the jammers into circles at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Layer the leftover scraps on top of one another and gently pat them out to a thickness of 1 1/2 to 2 inches and again cut into circles.
- Use your thumb to make an indentation the size of a fifty-cent piece in the middle of each biscuit. While gently supporting the outside edge of the biscuit with your fingers, use your thumb to create a bulb-shaped hole that’s a bit wider at the bottom and that goes almost to the bottom of the biscuit (think "pinch pot"). Try to apply as little pressure as possible to the outside of the biscuit to avoid smashing the layers, which are the key to flaky jammers.
- *If you are adding the salt flake, gently sprinkle the tops of the jammers with a pinch of sea salt flakes.
- Fill each indentation with 1 tablespoon of jam and put the jammers on the prepared baking sheet with 1 1/2 inches between them.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The jammers should be a deep golden brown.
- Reprinted with permission from The Grand Grand Central Baking Book by Ellen Jackson and Piper Davis, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.