Saturday, July 6, 2013

foraged and found 2013: thimblequest!

Finally, I vowed, this was the year: the year I would make thimbleberry jam. I had graduated, had no real claims on my time, and could commit to a day of meticulously culling bushes in the woods for miles, all to source enough fruit for a few jars of jam. My husband said I was crazy; he said it couldn't be done. He protested that thimbleberries were worthless, too little fruit and too much work to pick. Even my father-in-law's enthusiasm waned as the hours dragged on. Heck, even mine did. What a lot of work! But ... we pulled it off! (And then, exhausted and suffering a bit from low blood sugar, I ate WAAAAY too much delicious Mexican food and had to go to sleep for a few hours. Yum!)

What's a thimbleberry, you might ask? It's a native plant in the Pacific Northwest. Though it grows in both sun and shade, it prefers sunnier spots. It's a 4-5-foot-high shrub with broad fuzzy leaves (they look like maple leaves), no thorns, and a few small clusters of very delicate red berries. They look a bit like raspberries, but far more delicate. The flavor, however, is very intense - and also like raspberry.

They're absolutely my favorite wild berry,  but it's hard to find a lot of them that are ripe at one time, and because they are so delicate, many tear and do not come away intact as you pick. In our four-and-a-half hour picking session yesterday we scored 2 cups of red huckleberries  (the season started early this year, because of our warm weather!), 2 cups of wild mountain blackberries (precious treasure!) and about five cups of thimbleberries.

Since we knew we couldn't rinse them without losing half of the berries - they're so delicate that, even packed in small Tupperware containers, they soon crush each other under their own weight. So we carefully cleaned them as we picked, brushing away any debris and sticking to clean, good specimens. I picked through them a bit before dumping them in the pan and making this very simple jam: a little water (just to keep the berries from sticking!), a little sugar, and a bit of low-sugar pectin. That's it!

And the verdict? After tasting it, my husband said the flavor was like raspberries and strawberries combined, together with something ineffable, something wild in the mix. It got a big enthusiastic thumbs-up. Heck, I think he might even be game for more berry picking this summer! The thimbleberry  bushes we picked up in the mountains looked like they were just ripening their first fruits - so if you're interested in giving this a whirl, you should be able to find ripe thimbles (if you know where to look!) for another week or two.

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