If Montana had an official fruit, it would be the huckleberry, a wild mountain relative of the blueberry. Yes, other states claim them, too. But ours are the Real Thing. I know, because the last time I went picking, in the mountains above town known as the Jewel Basin, I was happily filling my little bucket with the deep purple jewels when the sounds of leaves and fruit being torn from branches told me a bear had the same idea. And if a bear wants something, you know it’s good—and you let her have it!
So what’s the taste of the perfect evening in Montana? Well, to Erin Murphy, the protagonist of my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, it’s Huckleberry Chocolate Mousse served at Chez Max. The second in the series, Crime Rib, came out earlier this month from Berkley Prime Crime, part of Penguin Books. (Read an excerpt and find bookseller links on my website.)
The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries are set in a small town in NW Montana where good food reigns supreme. Erin Murphy runs a specialty regional foods market, known as the Merc, and right next door are Le Panier, the bakery, and Chez Max, a bistro, run by Max and Wendy Fontaine. Wendy’s a local girl, but Max hails from Provence. His bistro serves traditional French country food, with a Montana accent. So naturally, he’s given the classic chocolate mousse a bit of local flavor!
CHEZ MAX’S HUCKLEBERRY CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons huckleberry syrup
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
pinch of sat
1-/12 teaspoons sugar
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, in the microwave, or in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the huckleberry syrup. Transfer to a bowl large enough for all the ingredients.
Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate, one at a time.
Beat the egg whites with the salt until they start to form peaks. (A stand mixer is perfect, if you have one.) Continue to beat and gradually add the sugar. Beat until the whites are shiny and hold medium-firm peaks.
Using a rubber spatula, spoon about a quarter of the whites into the chocolate and fold until almost smooth. (This lightens the chocolate and makes it easier to blend in the rest.) Spoon the rest of the whites into the chocolate and fold in carefully. Don’t overwork the mixture—you want to leave the bubbles in the mousse for lightness, and streaks are fine.
Spoon mousse into individual serving dishes and chill, covered. Garnish with whipped cream, mint, and huckleberries, if you’d like—and if you’re lucky enough to snare a few from the bear. Or if you’re feeling particularly French, leave it in the bowl and serve your guests tableside.
(The Wild Huckleberry syrups and preserves from Eva Gates, in Bigfork, Montana—the model for Jewel Bay, are particularly tasty. Www.evagates.com )