Backpacking with a seven-year-old and a three-year-old is always an adventure. Little did we know we were embarking on a trip into Jamberry Land. Mountain thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) are popping in my corner of the republic, and though we did our usual bush-to-bush reconnaissance, eating berries as we hiked up the canyon, on the trek back down the next day I was determined to bring a taste of thimble home.
As I mentioned in an earlier paean to the Rubus genus, thimbles don’t have much of a shelf life, like almost zero, usually falling apart in your hand before even hitting your tongue, which is why you never see them for sale. They’re a wild treat, meant to be enjoyed in the wild.
Or you can make jam. A seasoned thimbleberry picker knows this can take a while. Thimbleberries don’t take over like blackberries, and they don’t fruit in profusion. A good stalk might have a few ripe berries on it. But because they don’t have thorns you can wander willy-nilly through a thimbleberry patch—provided you don’t mind not seeing your feet and traversing what is more often a squirrelly mass of old winter-killed canes rather than solid ground.
Watch your step and keep a lookout for any furry brown ears poking out of the foliage. Reciting the kiddie-friendly rhymes of Bruce Degen’s Jamberry helps pass the time. “Raspberry, Jazzberry, Razzmatazzberry, Berryband, Merryband, Jamming in Berryland.”
Thimbleberries are naturally high in pectin, so all you need is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to berries and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, depending on the size of your batch. We had a packed pint of berries to which I added a little over 2 cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.
First, boil the berries to desired viscosity, then add the sugar and lemon and bring to a boil for a minute. You might get some foam at the top; skim off if you wish. The jam is ready to be poured or ladled into sterilized jars for canning. Secure the lids and give the jars a 10-minute bath in boiling water. If you’ve never canned before, read how to at PickYourOwn.org.