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Folklore: significance of huckleberries

12 Nov 06 - 02:31 PM (#1883965)
Subject: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: greg stephens

Could some American enlighten an ignorant Brit about huckleberries. What are they? And why did Mark Twain pick the name Huckleberry? And what exactly is the connotation of "huckleberry friend" in Moon River?


12 Nov 06 - 02:37 PM (#1883966)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Peace

www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr657.pdf

There's a start. Google that.


12 Nov 06 - 02:42 PM (#1883971)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Sorcha

AKA German blueberries. Wild, invasive. Can make pies, etc from them. I don't like them.


12 Nov 06 - 02:45 PM (#1883975)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Mr Happy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huckleberry


12 Nov 06 - 05:13 PM (#1884126)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: greg stephens

That all told me what a huckleberry is, but I'm still not clear why they seem to be associated with a carefree approach to life. When and how did this happen? I suppose it is because they are picked in the summer? But then, so are other things.


12 Nov 06 - 05:28 PM (#1884146)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Genie

They tend to grow high up in the hills, so they're associated more with hikers and wanderers than with city folk.    I think also they're probably named in lyrics because of the pleasant cadence of the name itself and because "berry" rhymes with a lot of English words. Anyway, huckleberries are a very "folky" kind of fruit - more so than blueberries or cherries or watermelons and other things you have to cultivate.   

Wouldn't be surprised if Mark Twain's naming a carefree orphan adventurer "Huckleberry Finn" had an influence on later-appearing American folksongs too.


12 Nov 06 - 05:39 PM (#1884159)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: greg stephens

But huckleberries had carefree associations pre-Mark Twain. It is these aassociations I am looking for, when they first appeared, and why.


12 Nov 06 - 05:46 PM (#1884162)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Barry Finn

Hollywood introduced the expresion, as far as I can tell, in a confrontation between gambler Doc Holiday & gunslinger Johnny Ringo when Hoilday tells Ringo "I'll be your huckleberry". I've tried to find the origins & meaning of that saying but only got as far as the movies.

Barry


12 Nov 06 - 05:48 PM (#1884165)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: DonMeixner

This is the best info I could find. I googled this question and the answer seems to be it means something small or insignificat. Possibly even hick like.

Don


[Q] From Cristlyn Randazzo: "What is the origin of the expression 'I'll be your Huckleberry'? What exactly does it mean?"

[A] What it means is easy enough. To be one's huckleberry—usually as the phrase I'm your huckleberry—is to be just the right person for a given job, or a willing executor of some commission. Where it comes from needs a bit more explaining.

First a bit of botanical history. When European settlers arrived in the New World, they found several plants that provided small, dark-coloured sweet berries. They reminded them of the English bilberry and similar fruits and they gave them one of the dialect terms they knew for them, hurtleberry, whose origin is unknown (though some say it has something to do with hurt, from the bruised colour of the berries; a related British dialect form is whortleberry). Very early on—at the latest 1670—this was corrupted to huckleberry.

As huckleberries are small, dark and rather insignificant, in the early part of the nineteenth century the word became a synonym for something humble or minor, or a tiny amount. An example from 1832: "He was within a huckleberry of being smothered to death". Later on it came to mean somebody inconsequential. Mark Twain borrowed some aspects of these ideas to name his famous character, Huckleberry Finn. His idea, as he told an interviewer in 1895, was to establish that he was a boy "of lower extraction or degree" than Tom Sawyer.

Also around the 1830s, we see the same idea of something small being elaborated and bombasted in the way so typical of the period to make the comparison a huckleberry to a persimmon, the persimmon being so much larger that it immediately establishes the image of something tiny against something substantial. There's also a huckleberry over one's persimmon, something just a little bit beyond one's reach or abilities; an example is in David Crockett: His Life and Adventures by John S C Abbott, of 1874: "This was a hard business on me, for I could just barely write my own name. But to do this, and write the warrants too, was at least a huckleberry over my persimmon".

Quite how I'm your huckleberry came out of all that with the sense of the man for the job isn't obvious. It seems that the word came to be given as a mark of affection or comradeship to one's partner or sidekick. There is often an identification of oneself as a willing helper or assistant about it, as here in True to Himself, by Edward Stratemeyer, dated 1900: " 'I will pay you for whatever you do for me.' 'Then I'm your huckleberry. Who are you and what do you want to know?' ". Despite the obvious associations, it doesn't seem to derive directly from Mark Twain's books.


12 Nov 06 - 05:51 PM (#1884169)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Peace

To add to what Don posted:


12 Nov 06 - 05:51 PM (#1884170)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: DonMeixner

That was by Michael Quinnion in the column World Wide Words

Don


12 Nov 06 - 05:57 PM (#1884174)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Peace

E-text of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade)"


12 Nov 06 - 05:58 PM (#1884176)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Barry Finn

"I'm your huckleberry" then Doc shoots Johnny dead with affection!
I was sure that it was beyond & more than Hollywood.
Thanks Don.
Barry


12 Nov 06 - 06:00 PM (#1884178)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Common names can be misleading.

Here in Alberta, the common names are dwarf Bilberry or blueberry. It belongs to the heath family. The name mostly applied is Vaccinium caespitosum, although here there are five species that are so alike that a botanical key is needed to separate them.
In southern British Columbia, there is a Vaccinium the locals call huckleberry; the plant and berry are slightly larger than those in Alberta. I am not sure which species of Vaccinium it is, but they make better pies.

The plant is very small, seldom over 10 inches. The berry is blue and sweet, the flower pink.
It grows best here on the floor of pine woods, and on thinly wooded slopes.

The taste, whichever of these little wild species it is, is much stronger than that of the larger commercial blueberry; also when freezing for future use, double-bagging is recommended because the strong flavor may affect the taste of other frozen fruits.
The wild blueberry has recently become available frozen, as more organics appear in the groceries. I use them to make blueberry pancakes.

The Saskatoon berry is also popular for pies in Canada's prairie provinces; it is unrelated to the blueberry, belonging to the rose family, proper name Amelanchier alnifolia. It may grow up to 12 feet in height.


12 Nov 06 - 06:13 PM (#1884186)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Bob the Postman

Huckleberries are the ideal loafer's food--wild, plentiful, delicious, nutritious, and easy to pick. In huckleberry season (late summer to early fall, where I am) a person could live outdoors and subsist on them exclusively. Around here, bears fatten for hibernation by gorging on huckleberries.
By contrast, wild strawberries, though yummy, are tiny, rare, and so close to the ground that they are hard to pick. Wild apples are usually sour. Blackberries and their relatives are hard to pick because of the thorns. Wild nuts are difficult to shell and don't taste sweet. Cambium (inner bark) is hard to get at and nobody knows about it anyway. Mushrooms don't taste like much and many are poisonous.
Huckleberry Finn is a very huckleberry kind of guy.


12 Nov 06 - 06:24 PM (#1884198)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Bob the Postman

In the time it took me to compose my posting just above, seven others posted to this thread. So to add to what Q says, here in B. C. there are four species of Vaccinium that I can think of, two of which I would sometimes call "huckleberry". One could do a great folklore study on which different groups of people in which local areas call which species of Vaccinium "huckleberry".
I have got into arguments about this with people who think that the berry they call huckleberry is the true huckleberry, whereas the berry I call huckleberry ought to be called "red blueberry" or "black blueberry" or "Indian blueberry".


12 Nov 06 - 06:29 PM (#1884203)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Peace

It's berry confusing for sure.


12 Nov 06 - 06:34 PM (#1884209)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: McGrath of Harlow

I don't think that calling Huckleberry Finn "carefree" is quite right, given all the troubles he had to cope with. "Resilient" is closer.


12 Nov 06 - 10:16 PM (#1884349)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Stilly River Sage

The one in Washington state, and probably the same in lower BC is Vaccinium ovatum.


12 Nov 06 - 11:07 PM (#1884386)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Genie

You're right, McGrath. I'm surprised to find I even used the term "carefree" in referring to Huck Finn.    I was thinking more on the lines of "footloose" as in not shackled to a job, school, etc. - even if being unfettered in that way wasn't entirely by choice.   I was also thinking along the lines of what Bob The Postman said about Huck being "a very huckleberry kind of guy" -- one who'd prefer the characteristics of wild huckleberries as a food source. But, no, "carefree" is more what Huck would have liked to be than what he had to be, by necessity.


13 Nov 06 - 12:33 AM (#1884406)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,DonMeixner

I think Huck Finn meets most if not all the definitions. Foot loose and carefree. A dependable friend to Tom Sawyer and an insignificant soul as seen by the good people in the community.

Don


13 Nov 06 - 10:52 AM (#1884691)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: leeneia

Thanks to those who posted the information on the metaphorical meaning of huckleberry. I'm interested in language, and found it interesting. I loved the story about Daniel Boone!


13 Nov 06 - 11:22 AM (#1884720)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Big Jim from Jackson

Here in Missouri (about 150 miles south of Hannible, Huck's and Tom's "home town") we call the fruit of a relatively small bush a "huckleberry". It is much like a blueberry but has a redder cast to its color. It is also much smaller than the commercial blueberry. It's smaller than a pea but larger than a BB (ammunition for an air gun). I was introduced to them when I lived in the mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee. When I returned to Southeast Missouri at the edge of the Ozarks, I found a few of them growing an the hills around my relatives' farms. The bushes don't bear very heavily; some grow to a height of 10 feet or so, though most are smaller. The flavor is much better than the blander blueberry.


13 Nov 06 - 03:00 PM (#1884886)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Barry Finn

"The blander blueberry"??
Them is fighting words to our Main-e-acks here.
The wild blueberry (not the fat commercial blueberry) is all they can lay claim to, don't take that away from them.

Barry


13 Nov 06 - 03:46 PM (#1884925)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Peace

"Daniel Boone"

A bar stool: That's what he stepped in.


26 Aug 19 - 05:20 AM (#4005885)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: FreddyHeadey

"The line, "My huckleberry friend," is often thought to be a reference to Huckleberry Finn, a character in Mark Twain's book Tom Sawyer.
However, in his autobiography, Johnny Mercer said it was in reference to a childhood friend of his. He used to pick huckleberries with him down by a lazy river near his home in Georgia."

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/henry-mancini/moon-river?fbclid=IwAR3P7Xkof5A3o1W_Q-hj6tvcCBhWRvvGK0mnAVoU0-Cxi05eBFZ01IFUeVw


26 Aug 19 - 10:45 AM (#4005908)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: meself

It seems to me that some years back, someone on this site said that she had grown up somewhere in the Southern states, and that 'huckleberry friend' was a familiar term there - the idea being that your huckleberry friend was the person you went picking huckleberries with. I'm sure I didn't make that up, because it comes into my head whenever I hear Moon River ....


26 Aug 19 - 12:55 PM (#4005922)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: leeneia

In the novel "Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Finn was a boy of fourteen. (Was that in the book, or is that folklore?) His father was a drunk, and there is no mention of his mother. He's being fostered by Aunt Polly, and doesn't like it. I have always felt that he was named Huckleberry as an attempt by impoverished, ignorant parents to give their child an impressive name. It has four syllables, after all.

Sort of like naming your son Montgromery, Gouverneur or Heatherington.

If the phrase "huckleberry friend" is truly an old one and not just something inspired by Moon River, then perhaps his parents wanted the name to imply "good friend." "Friend" and "Finn" are rather alike.


26 Aug 19 - 05:48 PM (#4005940)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Joe_F

In a familiar version of "Black-Eyed Susie", she & the boys went huckleberry picking. I dare say that is of no significance.


26 Aug 19 - 06:30 PM (#4005942)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: Lighter

I've lived most of my life in the Southern U.S., read a whole lot about it and other things, and I've *never* encountered "huckleberry friend" outside of the song.

Or "apple friend," "flower friend," "cotton friend," etc.

Why not just accept that Andy Williams made it up?

I50 years ago a common frontier idiom was "That's a huckleberry above my persimmon." It meant "That's beyond my reach, ability, etc." Why? Who knows?

Similarly, "huckleberry" is sometimes used as a humorous synonym for "a man or a boy." Whether that came before or after the 1884 novel, I don't know. But I certainly remember the late, great N.Y. Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto, a New Yorker through and through, more than once asking "Who *is* that huckleberry?"

As for H. Finn, I've never heard of anybody else named "Huckleberry." It's a fact, though, that Samuel Clemens had been threatened with a lawsuit, by a certain Eschol Sellers, for including a character of that name in a previous novel. Compelled to change the character's name in later printings, Clemens/Twain changed it to "Mulberry Sellers."

Long before "Huckleberry Finn," Twain wrote that huckleberries were a novelty to him when he moved to Connecticut. He said they didn't grow in Missouri.

(Most of this comes from a 1971 article by James L. Colwell of the U. of Colorado.)


26 Aug 19 - 08:53 PM (#4005949)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: meself

"Why not just accept that Andy Williams made it up?"

First of all, because maybe Andy Williams didn't just make it up. Secondly, because the rest of the lyrics seem so well crafted, and it's such a beautiful song, that I, for one, would like to think that that distinctive term actually means something, rather than just being nonsense syllables that serve no purpose other than to fill some space with vocal sound.


26 Aug 19 - 10:27 PM (#4005950)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,paperback

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner has a seemingly disjointed scene with Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn at a drive-in were they carry on about getting some mullberry ice cream made with mulberries from Oregon. After they get their treat at this hep drive-in Tracy proceeds to back into a chopped, dropped and channeled hot rod (suprising driven by a young negro). Harsh words ensue but nary a racial epithet is heard only some old man driving comment. Tracy pays him $50 and quips buy yourself a new one then head home for dinner. Hmmm, Oregon mullberry? I know my mother frequently said in the summer that I was brown as a berry, and California had in years prior to the film major race problems, (but not so much in Oregon were1 nice Negros live). Sidney Poitier is a little mullberry colored, isn't he. Well, just maybe, when Huck was born he was a little huckleberried colored being from the poor side of the town, but Finn I read is from the Irish meaning white / pale, so that would put Huckelberry Finn in a interesting position and a God send For Nigger Jim.

Sorry dude for pissin in yer cheerios again.


26 Aug 19 - 10:46 PM (#4005951)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: meself

... that was weird .....


27 Aug 19 - 12:52 AM (#4005956)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,paperback

A huckleberry to far...


27 Aug 19 - 10:32 AM (#4006018)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: leeneia

If huckleberries are so great, why have I never even seen one, much less eaten one? Why aren't people growing them?


27 Aug 19 - 02:59 PM (#4006070)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Per the song "Huckleberry Huntin'," I'd say it put someone in mind of a frolic.

"The boys and the girls went huckleberry huntin' ..."

And, as noted above, "Black-Eyed Susie" seems to corroborate.


30 Aug 19 - 03:13 AM (#4006491)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,paperback

The Difference Between Huckleberries and Blueberries

If you are unsure about the difference between huckleberries and blueberries …. well, you probably have never eaten a huckleberry.

Huckleberries tend to be more of a challenge to collect than blueberries,” Gadway says. “Blueberries tend to grow in clumps. But huckleberries grow as single berries, and you have to pick them one at a time. After you bring them home, you don’t have the big pile of berries.”…

“I think it’s more intense,” he says. “Once you’ve tasted a huckleberry, most people say they’re really good. The quality, how plump the berry is, will depend on how much rainfall we’ve had over the winter and spring. If it’s been dry, the huckleberries tend to have these little seeds that are more noticeable, whereas if it’s been wet, you don’t tend to notice as much.”

The two plants look a little different and so do the fruits.

“Blueberries are generally actually blue, and they can come in both a highbush form and a lower growing type of plant. Huckleberries are pretty universal in their bush: they’re maybe one-to-two feet off the ground, and the berries are smaller usually, and they’re really black in color.”

Huckleberries also aren’t domesticated. Plant breeders in Idaho—where the huckleberry is the state fruit—have apparently been trying for over a century with little success. Many foragers keep their spots to themselves—but Neil says when he sees huckleberry plants, he tries to spread the word.  “There are still a lot of areas in town that have huckleberries. I work out in the field at a lot different houses on the lower cape. I will see occasionally huckleberries growing out on people’s front lawns, and I ask them, if I’m there in say June or July, if they pick their huckleberries. And they kind of look at me with this quizzical face and say “huckle-what?” I ask if they mind if I pick some. They say “Sure!” I have to explain to them that they’re quite edible and quite tasty. So after I leave, maybe they’re trying them themselves because they’re growing in their front yard.
http://wildhuckleberry.com/2016/07/14/difference-huckleberries-and-blueberries-2/


30 Aug 19 - 09:21 PM (#4006613)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,Starship

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=huckleberry


31 Aug 19 - 07:15 AM (#4006648)
Subject: RE: Folklore: significance of huckleberries
From: GUEST,Starship

Worth noting that an earlier reference citing Val Kilmer saying "I'll be your huckleberry" was actually him saying I'll be your huckle bearer, huckle being a southern expression for the handle on a coffin. Since Kilmer shot the guy, that kinda makes sense.