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.