Thursday, August 14, 2008

The joy of thimbleberry jam




The other day John and Joanie, our neighbors to the west, bestowed upon us a jar of thimbleberry jam John had made himself. Yesterday morning I slathered it on pancakes (it's great on toast, too) and immediately perched atop a high cloud in heaven. The delicate flavor resembles that of the raspberry (to whose family the thimbleberry belongs) but subtly fills the mouth with a sweet tartness like no other.

The thimbleberry looks like a fat, squat raspberry but is much softer, with a very brief shelf life, so you never see it in supermarket quarts -- only in jam form in gift shops with a ready and nearby source of the berries.

Though the thimbleberry is found in northern climes from Connecticut to Washington State, its finest flowering is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There the natives jealously guard the locations of their favorite thimbleberry patches in the national and state forests. I've made some good friends among Yoopers, but not so good that any has vouchsafed his thimbleberry secret. No wonder, for bears are enough competition; the human picker needs to keep a weather eye out for brown ears bobbing among the berries.

The best thimbleberry jam is ridiculously easy to make, according to the experts. One takes equal measures of thimbleberries and sugar, mixes them together, and boils them in a pot until the stuff looks right, about two minutes. Then the mixture is poured into Ball jars. No need for pectin or preservatives.

The jam is readily available on the Internet from such places as thimbleberryjam.com and thimbleberryjamlady.com, but I have no personal experience with them. Commercial thimbleberry jam is costly because picking the berries is so labor-intensive.

Thimbleberry leaves, by the way, are large, maple-shaped and soft, and are said to make very good emergency TP in the woods.

Someday I'll find my own patch -- and maybe it will become Sheriff Steve Martinez' deepest secret in the Porcupine County mystery novels. Certainly it will join the Finnish delicacies nisu and viili as well as the Cornish pasty as edible "furniture" for the settings.

9 comments:

  1. You're very fortunate indeed to have neigbors so generous as to share their thimbleberry jam with you. As you say, making the jam is the easy part - picking enough berries to make even a small jar of it is quite another story. They defy physics. The more of the chubby little buggers you pick, the less you end up with in your pail. They somehow manage to compress themselves into an ever dimishing volume.

    If no one up in those parts has pointed you in the right direction to go picking, maybe you should try asking them; "Hey yous guys, where's all da timpleperries dis year?"

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  2. Hermit, what about planting one's own thimbleberry patch? I presume it is frowned upon to dig up thimbleberry plants in the woods (assuming it can be done). Perhaps Yooper garden centers carry thimbleberry seedlings?

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  3. I have read that thimbleberries are easily cultivated, but have never heard of anyone actually doing it. I prefer to think that the thimbleberry, like many a Yooper, would reject such domesticity in favor of the untilled solitude of some long abandoned mine site, logging road, or railroad bed.

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  4. Stumbled on yr post while looking for thimbleberry jam recipes. Picked a pound today in WA state and can't wait to get it in the jars. 1:1 and no pectin sounds about right. Wish me luck!

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  5. Let us know how the jam turns out. And how long did you have to spend picking enough berries for a jar of jam?

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  6. Just wanted to comment on the thimbleberry. I am from the UP and now live in Montana. I recently saw thimbleberry plants in Glacier National Park and was surprised because years ago I looked up where they grow and thought they were limited to the UP and some place in Colorado. This siting gave me the desire to grow my own thimbleberries in my yard. I found some seeds on ebay and promptly ordered them. They were very small and less than 10% sprouted, but I have several small plants growing inside at the moment. I'm currently wondering at what stage to move them outside. They are still pretty small. I'll keep you posted on whether or not they flourish to being a real crop. I have ordered from both thimbleberry jam sites you mentioned. I often have my mom send me some from the UP as well. Good luck...I miss thimbleberry jam so much!

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  7. I am blessed with Thimbleberries galore. I was thinking about making wine, but the jam looks pretty simple. I am determined this year to actually make something. Usually I'm like an old bear and just wander through the backyard eating them.

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  8. I just made my first batch of thimbleberry jam. I live in N. Utah. I am sure they are not as prevelent as in the UP but they can be found in UT, ID, NV, MT, OR, WA, CO, CA if you know where to look

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