Serendipity and family have both played a part in the sweet — and savory — success of Wildbeary, a North Idaho-based food products business making sweet and savory spreads, rubs and other flavorful concoctions with huckleberries.
Charlene Shaver, a retired teacher, was impressed with Wildbeary Huckleberry Products, which was the name of the company from 2001-13, when Kris and Bob McIlvenna ran it out of their 315 Martini & Tapas and Greenbriar Inn bed and breakfast in Coeur d'Alene. Shaver approached Kris McIlvenna, who said there was no room at the inn for her at Wildbeary, yet eventually hired her to serve some shifts at the 315. When McIlvenna's steady expansion of huckleberry-based products prompted the need for a production manager at Wildbeary, Shaver was in the right place at the right time. She jumped in, purchasing the company six years later with her sister, Lori Mayfield.
Wildbeary has continued to expand in products and staffing. Shaver's son Tom, an ergonomic engineer, invents new flavor profiles and products, while son Matthew draws upon his career in retail produce to assist Charlene on the production side. Mayfield and her husband Joe focus on sales, graphic design and marketing.
"Everybody has their own gifts to give something to this company," says Charlene, who remembers picking huckleberries as a child with her parents in western Washington's Kent Valley. Her mother, she says, made jam using a simple, traditional recipe — fruit, cane sugar, lemon juice and pectin — that they still follow.
Time-tested recipes, natural (non-GMO) ingredients, locally sourced: that's Wildbeary, says the Shaver clan.
Better-quality fruit means a better product requiring less sugar, says Charlene, who notes that they purchase all cultivated fruit from throughout Oregon's Willamette Valley. Because fruit flavor can vary depending on both variety and where it's grown, Wildbeary uses only North Idaho purple huckleberries, as opposed to the coastal variety, which is typically redder and more tart than its mountainous cousin.
Wildbeary relies on two North Idaho families with a 30-year history of handpicking to provide them with berries for their spreads, pie filling, syrup, vinaigrette, baking mixes and rubs. Last year they used roughly 6,500 pounds, or 1,300 gallons of berries.
Some products require the berry juice; others, such as Wildbeary's spice rubs, require the whole berry. Whole berries are dehydrated for more than 20 hours, explains Tom, resulting in a two-thirds reduction of the berry's size. The berries are then puréed and mixed with select spices to create rubs — including Huckleberry Mole with cinnamon, coffee and chocolate or the Huckleberry Cajun rub, which can also be used in a dip (see recipe).
Still other products resulted from conversations with customers, says Tom. Huckleberry Habanero jelly, for example, is a kicked-up version of their regular pepper jelly, while their simple spreads seem to resonate best with farmer's market crowds.
Wildbeary sells its products wholesale throughout Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, and they're carried in local stores, including Yoke's, Super 1 and My Fresh Basket. Their creations are also available seasonally at the Kootenai County Farmers' Markets.
Online, they're available via shaverfarms.com. Shaver Farms, explains Charlene, doesn't exist... yet. It's a dream of hers, to create a teaching farm with the purpose of educating others about food and farming. Maybe it would even include an expanded Wildbeary production facility, as America's taste for huckleberries continues to grow. ♦
Huckleberry Cajun Dip
In addition to helping tenderize meat and infuse flavor, Wildbeary rubs can be incorporated into other recipes like this one, which marries heat and sweet for a dip that goes beautifully with crackers, veggies or even shrimp.
¾ cup sour cream*
½ cup mayonnaise*
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped chives
½ tablespoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tablespoons Wildbeary Huckleberry Cajun Rub
* substitute with vegan and/or lower-fat products as needed
Mix ingredients in small bowl, combining well.
Cover and chill for at least one hour to let flavors develop.
Fast and Easy Winter Salad
Next time you're craving strawberry-and-spinach salad, try this combination instead, which still gives you the sweetness of fruit, brightness of greens, and crunchy nuts and apples, as well as the tang of cheese.
8 ounces mixed field greens, washed and dried
2 apples, matchbook sliced (Granny Smith, McIntosh, etc.)
¼ cup candied pecans or walnuts
¼ cup blue or feta cheese, crumbled
Black pepper, to taste
Wildbeary Huckleberry Poppyseed Vinaigrette
Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl.
Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat greens; season with black pepper.