From Too Many Chefs - www.toomanychefs.com

October 18, 2006
Thimbleberry Jam

thimbleberry.jpgI remember when my brother moved to the Pacific Northwest some 20 years ago. He was living in Ohio with his first wife and they were contemplating the eternal question of "what next" when she finished her studies. I don't know that my big brother actually asked my advice about the various options, but I do remember that as soon as I heard him mention Oregon I was emphatic in pushing it. I knew he'd love it. And I think he'll agree I was right. It is and was full of folk-singers, nut and berry gatherers and - if you'll excuse me - a fair number of nuts. So over the years my brother has gotten even more knowledgeable about gardening and foraging. Not only do I have the satisfaction of knowing he's happy where he is, but I also reap the rewards in terms of the fruit he finds when he's out and about on his bike.

The last time I was pregnant, I went through the entire jar of huckleberry jam he and his wife made for us, all by myself. It was a great morning sickness remedy and by the time I was through that stage of the pregnancy I was hooked anyway. I finished the jar, licked my lips and looked hungrily towards Oregon.

And this summer when we saw my brother in Illinois, he again showed what a wonderful loving sibling he is and gave me a completely new delight, one I had never heard of: Thimbleberry Jam. So my first question was: what on earth is a thimbleberry? It turns out that it is a member of the raspberry family, but is actually softer and so does not pack or ship well. So the only place you can find them is in the wild, not your local supermarket. And even then it's apparently something of a Holy grail of berries; my brother told me he'd been looking for them for quite a while before happening on a bank of bushes large enough to give fruit for a small batch of jam. And out of that small batch of jam, he gave me a precious little jar.

So, how does it taste, you may be wondering? In a word: delicious. But that is not a very descriptive word, now is it? It tastes a bit like raspberry but indefinably different. There are a lot more seeds than raspberries (which is saying a lot, really) but they are not as hard and annoying. They don't get caught in your teeth. One of the most amazing properties, though, is the incredibly high pectin level they have. My brother told me that when he made his first batch he used pectin and the resulting jam was almost impossible to spread. I was actually convinced he'd accidentally sent me some of this batch, as the jam I received was pretty darn solid, better on crumpets and English muffins than delicate slices of toast. But my jar did not have the marking 1.0 (my brother is a geek, yes) on the lid, so obviously I got the "soft" jam.

I asked my brother how he first heard of thimbleberries and how he knew to recognise them and he wrote back the following:

"Boy, where did I learn about them first?? It probably was from my friends Leif & Michelle, who first took me hiking when we came to the Pacific NW. They were very good about educating folks about local flora; one time they took me out mushroom hunting for morels.

Thimbleberries have very distinctive five-lobed leaves, and usually grow in areas which have been disturbed by logging or trail-building. You find them at the interface where light meadow and dark forest meet; they like sun, but not too much. The berries themselves ripen singly on stems, which makes picking them fairly laborious. The berries are like raspberries, being composed of individual drupelets arranged in a thin little cap that is about the size of a small thimble, hence the name. When I went looking for a recipe I found resources on the internet that indicate that they're not just a Pacific NW phenomena; people in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula apparently pick similar berries and make them into jam.

Enclosed is a photo of a stand of bushes. These are across the road from where I work. As to how I recognize them, I'm just always on the lookout for various berries in wild places. Thimbleberries are my favorite, but I also enjoy finding blue huckleberries (which you generally only find above a couple thousand feet elevation), salal berries (which are a meaty berry that local indigenous peoples ate as a staple), and salmonberries (which are found in moist places and are not so sweet). Then of course there are blackberries, which are ubiquitous: for six weeks in the summer I supplement my breakfast with a lot of blackberries that grow along the bicycle path to work. Many people tend to lump blackberries all together, but in fact there are indigenous blackberries as well as the non-native European blackberry. Some are big and fat and sweet, while others have a flavor that is best described as spicy.

For those out here on the West Coast wishing to identify berries, I recommend this little pocket guide:

http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=0912550023 (wow, the price on these has gone up, mine has a $3 price tag on it).

Cheers,

Kurt"

You can see why I thought the Pacific Northwest was the perfect place for my brother, can't you?

RipeThimbleberry.jpgIf you happen to find a trove of berries like the one pictured here (thanks, Kurt, for the photo!), and are interested in preserving them, here is the recipe he used.

Personally, if I ever move out that way and find myself with some thimbleberries, I'd be tempted to mix them with peaches for a variation. Back when I was about 13 years old, I tried to make a batch of peach jam and ended up with a dozen jars of very sweet, very soupy peach sauce, which lingered in my mother's basement for - literally - years. Obviously the peaches needed more pectin and obviously the thimbleberries have plenty to spare, so why not?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at October 18, 2006 12:54 PM
Comments

Meg
I'm not normally one to comment - just read and use your recipes, but I can't help but comment on this post. I went to college in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and fell in love with Thimbleberry Jam. There is actually a group of monks in the U.P. (Society of St. John) that have a little store called the Jam Pot, and a website, from which they sell Thimbleberry and other wonderful jams. I stock up periodically. Unfortunately, they probably won't ship to Paris!

Posted by Karen on October 19, 2006 at 6:50 AM

Meg
I'm not normally one to comment - just read and use your recipes, but I can't help but comment on this post. I went to college in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and fell in love with Thimbleberry Jam. There is actually a group of monks in the U.P. (Society of St. John) that have a little store called the Jam Pot, and a website, from which they sell Thimbleberry and other wonderful jams. I stock up periodically. Unfortunately, they probably won't ship to Paris!

Posted by Karen on October 19, 2006 at 6:52 AM

There's nothing quite like picking berries in the wild and making jam out of them. With the few wild places left around here I haven't seen any wild berries for years! Guess I'll have to go to a rainforest for that now.

Posted by Jyotsna on October 19, 2006 at 7:06 AM

I am a confessed jamoholic...the more obscure, the better! Thanks, Meg, for the intro to thimbleberries.
Karen, thanks for posting the info on the jam-making monks! I found their website: http://www.societystjohn.com/jampot.jp?page=preserves.jp&cart_id=67773.7091 and plan to order some and have it brought over to Paris.
Taina

Posted by Taina on October 19, 2006 at 8:36 AM

Meg,
If you order some, I'll bring it when I come in December. I loved Kurt's picture of the Thimbleberry stand.

Posted by Meg's MOM on October 20, 2006 at 1:46 PM

I've never heard of thimbleberry but you have me intrigued! Love your site too, btw, this is my first visit. :)

Posted by Ari (Baking and Books) on October 22, 2006 at 2:06 PM

I've never heard of thimbleberry but you have me intrigued! Love your site too, btw, this is my first visit. :)

Posted by Ari (Baking and Books) on October 22, 2006 at 2:07 PM

I've never heard of thimbleberry but you have me intrigued! Love your site too, btw, this is my first visit. :)

Posted by Ari (Baking and Books) on October 22, 2006 at 2:13 PM

I'm looking for somewhere to purchase the thimbleberries and thimbleberry plants. Is there a place where I could order these to be shipped?

Posted by Char on August 5, 2007 at 10:02 PM

I am happy to see others have enjoyed the thimbleberry. I grew up on 75 acres in North Idaho on a dirt road near the forest. My brother and I spent our summers eating a variety of berries and fruits..some wild and some that had been planted by others. We never knew what this fruit was that we were eating...but we always pigged out on it when they were ripe. I realize now it was the "thimbleberry" and had wondered why very few knew about it. It is delicious fresh..I imagine a wonderful jam/jelly/ice cream topping as well. Huckleberries also have always been my favorite.

Posted by Tricia on August 9, 2007 at 2:37 PM

I m lookinf for a source of thimble berry harry berry jam for a friend of nine. Do you stock this?

pt

Posted by Pat skyler on November 8, 2007 at 6:45 PM

I am also looking for a place to purchase the thimbleberry plants. They make the greatest tasting jam.
thanks for your time. Sue

Posted by sue stark on May 15, 2008 at 1:35 PM

You can get thimbleberry jam here:

www.societystjohn.com

Posted by Karen on July 18, 2008 at 3:15 PM

I now live in the U.P. of Michigan. A friend of mine told me about thimbleberries and I found a great place full of them- looking forward to making jam, and it's great to know it's so easy. Great site, and great info.

Posted by Amy on July 28, 2008 at 1:40 PM

I just returned from a huckleberry picking trip. Usually, thimbleberries are like the exclamation point to the day. I've never seen more than 2 or 3 ripe berries on a bush at any one time, and we always just ate them as we found them, as a special treat. Today... I actually came home with more thimbleberries than huckleberries! The bushes are loaded (and huckleberries are apparently about 3 weeks behind schedule due to the weather, according to family). I was thinking of drying the thimbleberries to use in granola, but making jam out of them sounds great too, and I might be able to give some as gifts. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Posted by Shawna on August 25, 2008 at 8:45 PM

I'm from the upper peninsula of Michigan and recently moved to Montana. I LOVE thimbleberry jam and miss it dearly. For those of you looking to purchase and grow thimbleberry plants, please realize that they only grow naturally in high altitude climates and very cold winters. My aunt tried to transplant them from the UP to the lower peninsula of Michigan without any luck. Good luck!

Posted by Kristin on August 26, 2008 at 6:58 PM

would like to buy thimberry seeds

Posted by brion ruehle on September 6, 2008 at 10:01 PM

Thimbleberry Plants can be grown outside of high altitude climates. I am not sure why it was stated that they can't. They are hardy zones 4 - 9.

For those of you looking to purchase this delicious plant, the only place I have seen them sold is http://www.raintreenursery.com/catalog/productdetails.cfm?productid=E305

I have not seen them available in seed form though Kirstin, Sorry.

Posted by Krystyl_Rose on September 3, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Sorry, I realized I had one other source for the Thimbleberry Plants.

http://www.onegreenworld.com//advanced_search_result.php?keywords=Thimbleberry&x=0&y=0

Posted by Krystyl_Rose on September 3, 2009 at 4:27 PM

We live in Colorado and pick our thimbleberries at 9000 feet! We discovered them last year along an old logging road - very fun find! Has anyone tried them in a berry pie?

Posted by Angie on September 6, 2009 at 7:46 PM

I just came back from a thimbleberry picking expedition. I'm surprised to see that they're not in Michigan's lower Peninsula. I just last night found some on the edge of a wooded area near my place and I live in a Detroit suburb. It's on city property and there aren't that many of them. I don't know if I can accumulate enough for a small batch of jam, but they're just starting, so I'd like to try :)

Posted by Chris on June 21, 2010 at 9:52 PM

This year looks to be a bumper year for the thimbleberry here in Washington. I don't think I have every seen so many. Thanks for the recipe on the jam. I will have enough to put some up this year.

Great blog! And anytime your brother wants to post where to find the morels - I am listening. I always hear "last year's burn" but that is not very helpful. I am originally from Michigan and have picked morels since I was old enough to walk. Have only found one here and have lived here since 1995. Clues anyone?

Thanks again for the info on your site!

Posted by Beckey on August 9, 2011 at 12:35 PM

I have just been introduced to the wonder of the Thimbleberry myself and you are right they are FABULOUS. I was not in a situation to harvest them for jamming, so am looking for a source from whom to buy a couple jars to surprise my husband with for a Thanksgiving treat. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.

Posted by Linda on September 12, 2011 at 1:25 AM

I'm a native Michigander and grew up on Thimbleberry Jam. I love it and can buy online from places in Michigan that make and sell it. My Aunt used to always make it. She lived in the UP and always made batches of the jam. I'd like to grow the berries and be able to make it myself, not sure if they will grow out here. If not I know where I can always get some. A bit pricey, but well worth the cost. Nothing better. My sister was named after the Thimbleberry, her name is Thimberly.

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Posted by Bernie Ivins on July 19, 2014 at 7:38 PM

I just finished up a batch of thimbleberry jam from berries we picked in the U.P. a couple of weeks ago. End result is delicious as always!

Posted by Ron Simons on August 22, 2014 at 5:57 PM

I am looking forward to growing these shrubs next spring. They appear to be very easy to grow: they like a bit of shade, and are drought tolerant once established. You prune them as you would raspberry shrubs for maximum yield. The sole mail order source in Canada I was able to find is T&T Seeds.

Posted by Gaia on October 18, 2014 at 1:48 AM

www.thimbleberryjamlady.com

Posted by paul on November 10, 2014 at 3:10 PM