Thimbleberry - A Postcard From Summer 1971
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Well, maybe we weren't so wild and having relatives and friends to visit all over the U.S. and Canada probably ruled out the "crazy" part - but we were young and spent that entire summer traveling through 4 Canadian Provinces and 21 States. The van was a camper with a built in ice chest and seats from a Porche. My girlfriend's Mother made us a cover for the spare tire mounted on the front of the van and we really did look "respectable" until we got out of the van in tie dyed T-shirts sans - well you know what. The van, of course broke down in every major (and minor) city and we had to call home for money to replace the engine in the middle of the desert in British Columbia. Oh and "kicking the wheels" - didn't exactly fix the brakes, either.
Sitting off center to the steering wheel in the fancy Porsche bucket seats using a bungee cord to keep the gear shift in high, driving through miles and miles and miles of open country made us feel daring and free. I have hazy memories of being in a Canadian farmhouse in a wheat field in a thunderstorm and distinct ones of loaded farm trucks full of soybeans passing the van on two lane roads in Ohio. (Scaring me silly, I will add.) I remember spending a couple of days at the Grand Canyon and being stopped by "the man" near my parents house in Newport News, Virginia. (We took advantage of the situation and asked for directions!) And then there was that golden Dandelion Wine Vinegar that a relative in Ohio gave us from her Dandelion Wine gone bad. All in all - the strongest memory I have was early in the trip in British Columbia when I picked Thimbleberries off the fence at a friend of a friend's house where we stayed for a couple of days.
With the passing of the years, I began to wonder if I had just invented thimbleberries as I never saw or even heard of anyone growing them again. Then came the day when searching for unusual edibles for my garden, I found them! It turns out that Thimbleberries are a relative of the raspberry named for the shape of the berry that pulls easily off the core when ripe leaving a hollow structure of drupelets that resembles a thimble. The Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus, is native to most of western and northern North America, growing in forest clearings. It is an upright shrub from 5' to 10' tall. The leaves are maple leaf shaped and soft and downy. The stems of the plant are sticky to the touch. It differs from the other members of the raspberry genus in that it has no thorns. The flowers are 2-6 cm and white although the cultivar I have, Rubus odoratus, has lavender flowers that remind me of an up-facing hellebore bloom. One of the nice things about Thimbleberry is that it fruits in the shade making it perfect for under planting trees in a permaculture landscape. Because the fruit is so soft, it does not pack or ship well, thimbleberries are rarely cultivated commercially. However, wild thimbleberries make an excellent jam which is sold as a local delicacy in some parts of their range, notably in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan. 
Planted at the end of my deck I can see my Thimbleberry from the porch swing where I relax at dusk dreaming of a tidy, productive garden. Even though my Thimbleberry didn't set fruit last year, I enjoyed the blooms and the memories of a summer spent with friends and the days of gas at 3 gallons for a dollar.
Thimbleberry jam is easily made by combining equal volumes of berries and sugar and boiling the mixture for two minutes before packing into sterilized jars.
willmetge for white flowered thimbleberry pictures
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