Celebrating the Huckleberry

Whitefish art festival Huckleberry Days takes place Aug. 12-14, includes dessert bake-off competition featuring popular local berry

By Molly Priddy
Nicole Stickney and her daughter Grace make a huckleberry fluff for the annual Huckleberry Days festival in Whitefish. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

At 11 years old, Grace Stickney is almost as tall as her mom, Nicole Stickney. The two talked and spun around each other in their Kalispell kitchen last week, working together on a project in the heart of summertime.

As special services forester for the Stillwater State Forest, Nicole was feeling the workload of her job’s busy summer season, which involves helping keep the forest’s wildland fire team prepped and ready. But on her day off last Friday, she and Grace were in the kitchen doing preparations of their own.

The 27th annual Huckleberry Days Arts Festival in Whitefish was still about a week away, but this mother-daughter duo wanted to practice the recipes they will present to a panel of judges for the huckleberry dessert bake-off contest.

“I’ve never won,” Nicole said as she helped Grace fold a generous helping of Cool Whip into a melted-marshmallow base. “I’m a good baker and I just enjoy doing it. The culinary skills on some of those dishes are just beyond.”

Nicole participates in the bake-off each year, and Grace took part in the kids’ division in its inaugural venture during last year’s festival. This year, Grace will prepare the simple-yet-delicious dish, Huckleberry Fluff, while Nicole intends on making a Huckleberry Cream Tart.

Both desserts will use hucks hand-picked by the Stickneys, usually from special spots Nicole knows from her job’s inherent forest wanderings. The berries they used in their baking last week were picked the day before, and the fruit was large and dark, perfectly juicy and crisp.

The Huckleberry Days Arts Festival in Whitefish takes place in Depot Park on Aug. 12-14 this year, and promises to be another weekend of fun and flavor, all dedicated to one of the valley’s most popular fruits.

The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce hosts the event every year, and Sarah Stewart of the chamber said this year will include live music from guests who haven’t yet been onstage at the festival.

“We do have some new community talent coming in,” Stewart said.

This includes Michelle Rivers, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Tennessee but now calls Northwest Montana home and who was most recently featured at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival earlier this summer. Rivers takes the main stage on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 3 p.m.

Other new acts include the Old Time Fiddlers, Stewart said, and the Dakota Windsong Flutes, who both go on stage on Sunday, Aug. 14. The Old Time Fiddlers play at 1 p.m., and the Dakota Windsong Flutes perform at 3 p.m.

Stewart said the arts festival is always on the lookout for new talent to put onstage, whether with music or a demonstration, such as the 4 p.m. demonstration by Sawbuck Do Jang on Aug. 13.

“We just want to offer that stage for people to come and get the word out [about their organization or band],” Stewart said.

Of course, Huckleberry Days is well known for its selection of art shown for sale, with more than 100 booths laid out through Depot Park. Artisans and craftspeople sell their wares while live music floats on the summer breezes.

And along with all of the family-friendly fun, the dedicated children’s area includes face painting and a climbing wall, among other adventures. This, along with the dessert contest, is why Grace loves Huckleberry Days.

“There’s so much to do,” Grace said. “I bought a tortoise painting there.”

In their kitchen, Grace and Nicole discussed huckleberry syrup recipes and then the berries themselves. Grace’s dish takes four cups of the precious fruit, which the family will pick just before the weekend event.

These berries are extra special, Nicole said, because it’s up to the baker to either find them in the wild or pay for someone else’s local foraging.

“You can’t cultivate them,” she said of the fruit’s appeal. “And they’re that perfect blend of sweet and tart.”

Admission to the festival is free. For more information about the 27th annual Huckleberry Days Arts Festival, visit www.whitefishchamber.org/huckleberry-days, or call the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce at 406-862-3501.

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