Before my recent trip to Montana, when I’d hear the word “huckleberry,” the first thing that popped into my head was Finn, or maybe the gun-slinging cartoon Hound. But even though you can find huckleberry jam, candles, pie, and T-shirts in any Montana tourist shop, I now know that the huckleberry’s finest use is in milkshakes. The frothy, pale-lavender drinks are everywhere in Big Sky Country in the summertime.
And the best ones I found—at truck stops, sandwich shops, and diners—contained Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, which is only sold in Montana and a small tip of Wyoming. Every year, the 98-year-old company buys several tons of wild mountain huckleberries (they are actually a native blueberry) in the early fall, and freezes them so the ice cream flavor—one of their 58 varieties—can be made all year long.
All huckleberry milkshakes are good, but the best are at The Pickle Barrel, a sub and ice cream store located in a converted barber shop across the street from Montana State University in Bozeman. When I ordered the shake, the woman behind the counter quietly put down the book that she was reading and with great purpose dug out a couple of fluffy, purple-studded scoops of ice cream, dropped them in an old-school stainless steel canister along with a glug of milk, and blended the mixture for what felt like forever. (For those who prefer the type of milkshakes that are so dense that the plastic straw collapses, go directly to Hot Pot Java in West Yellowstone.) The Pickle Barrel shake is a flavorful, icy, milky slush with tiny flecks of berry.
The huckleberry may be the state fruit of Idaho, but it is in Montana that it really shines.