Monday, August 15, 2016

Thimbleberry Jam

When I was a student at Michigan Tech, I spent a couple summers in the Keweenaw, and I vowed back then that I would someday make my own thimbleberry jam.    It finally happened!

Thimbleberries...from the watercolor journal of Marilynn Brandenburger
check out her work here

Growing up downstate, I had never heard of thimbleberries, which I'd describe as a floral, tart raspberry with smaller seeds.   They are also much easier to pick than raspberries, because they have no thorns.   They come into season in the beginning to mid August, and so I planned a trip to our place on Lake Superior to hopefully be timed with the ripening of the berries.   All the souvenir shops in the Keweenaw sell thimbleberry jam, but my favorite place to get it is the Jam Pot  a bakery and preserves spot in Eagle River.   I've always been inspired by their preserves...everything from wild gathered chokecherry and bilberries and rose hips to thimbleberry, their most popular.    It's currently selling for $18 a jar.    I noticed American Spoon is selling it for $23 a half pint.   So I put the family, and our friends Ray and Jen who were up visiting, to work picking berries.   

Thanks to the internet, I found that thimbleberries, unlike raspberries, don't need added pectin.   The recipes I found said to use equal volumes of berries and sugar and to bring it to a boil.   I decided to use equal amounts of sugar and berries by weight instead.   Thimbleberries are very fragile -- we collected them in bags and then put them in a bucket.    They turn into a a sludge almost immediately upon picking them  I poured them and their juice onto a cookie sheet to pick out any detritus (twigs, stems, the occasional tick) and them combined it with an equal part by weight of sugar.   I brought the mixture to a boil for 3 minutes, which seemed to be the average out there on the internet.

After 3 minutes of stirring constantly, I put the jam in hot half pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace and processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.   

 We picked 7 lbs of berries, which resulted in 22 half pints of jam.....that's about $400 worth of jam!