The past week or two, Jesse and I have been indulging in a new activity – foraging in the forest for wild, edible plants and food! One of the things we’ve come across that we had NO IDEA was edible is the thimbleberry, and we want to share with you this delicious thimbleberry jam recipe that we used.
Thimbleberry is a native North America plant that according to Wikipedia, grows many places in the west from sea level in the north up to elevations of 8,200ft in the south.
Jesse and I have seen these plants for years but thought they were poisonous to eat for some reason. In fact, I think we assumed most things in the forest were unsafe to eat but that’s not true at all!
While foraging isn’t something to take lightly as there ARE poisonous plants out there, there actually is a lot of food that Mother Nature provides that is ready to be harvested for consumption! Here is what looks like a great book on wild, edible plants in North America if you’re looking to get started.
To start our foraging adventures, we’ve been focusing on edible berries as those are easy to identify. Huckleberries have been our main grab, with thimbleberries and wild raspberries coming in second. Many of you have asked for some of the recipes we’ve been using so we thought we’d share this one on the blog since it’s so unique.
The Easiest Thimbleberry Jam Recipe
The great thing about thimbleberries is that they are naturally high in pectin which means you don’t need to add any to get a firm jam. I do think you need to add some for jelly with some sort of strainer stand but we chose to make jam instead. Jelly requires straining out the pulp to get a beautiful, clear juice but since thimbleberries are already in less abundance than other berries in our area (huckleberries), we chose to leave the pulp in to get more mileage out of the canned goods. No regrets at all.
This page is a really great resource for more information on thimbleberries and thimbleberry jam / jelly, but I’ll try to summarize it. Basically, you need equal parts thimbleberry and sugar – that’s it for the ingredients!
Here are the steps outlined in a little more detail in order… although if you’re new to canning, I suggest picking up a copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving as it is the canning bible. It will really help you to understand the basics of canning and why we do or do not do certain things such as adding acid, water bath canning vs pressure canning, why we heat things for the length of time that we do and to the temperature that we do, etc.
1. Clean the berries.
The first step in making thimbleberry jam is to clean the berries. While cleaning huckleberries is pretty straightforward, thimbleberries are extremely delicate so you can’t just wash them off and call it a day. I painstakingly spread the berries out one layer at a time and cleaned them up… with tweezers! There were quite a few larger bugs crawling around in my berry bucket and there were also some small white worms that seemed to like the berries. This took me about an hour for 3.5 cups of berries. The end result is SO WORTH IT! Trust me!
2. Sterilize your jars and lids.
Next, as with any canning project, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids. Putting the jars in the water bath canner for 10 minutes or so should be good (make sure they’re clean to start) and keep your lids in hot water. I don’t bring the water to a rolling boil for the lids, just make sure it’s right under boiling or so.
3. Mix equal parts of sugar and berries.
Next, put equal parts of sugar and berries in a sauce pan. Mash the berries and sugar together over low to medium heat… they will turn into a mushy paste with little to no effort because the berries are so delicate. Slowly heat the mixture until it is a rolling boil. Continue stirring at a rolling boil for three minutes and then you’re ready to can.
4. Add jam to clean, sterilized jars and then put jars into the water bath.
Add the jam to the hot, sterilized jars leaving about 1/4″ head space. A jar funnel makes this task as clean as possible. Many recipes suggest removing air bubbles by using a bubble remover to push the liquid away from the edges a few times… I kinda feel this is an unnecessary step with jams but someone correct me if that’s wrong.
Wipe the rims of the jars clean, place a hot lid on with a lid lifter, and then screw the metal ring on until it’s finger-tight. Place finished jars back into the water bath as you finish them with a jar lifter. I’ve noticed that if I don’t put them back into the water bath immediately, the lids “tink” prematurely which I don’t think is a problem, but something to note nonetheless.
PS: All the tools you could possibly need for basic canning is in the Ball Utensil Set. I didn’t purchase this right away to see if I could get away with it and after my first canning session, I ran to our local home improvement store to buy the set! Every tool really does have a specific purpose and will make your life easier.
5. Process jars for 10 minutes (plus extra time if at elevation).
Once all jars are in, bring the water bath canner back up to a rolling boil and start your timer. If you’re preserving at high altitude (greater than 1,000 feet), you’ll need to increase the time in the bath by a minimum of 5 minutes. Use this chart to determine how many minutes to tack on to the boiling time.
6. Remove jars and allow to cool.
Once your timer is up, remove the jars and allow them to cool! We hear our lids seal almost immediately after taking them out of the bath and if not, within 2-5 minutes. It can take the jam up to a couple of days I think to fully set, so if it’s a little on the runny side, don’t fret! Once the jars are fully cooled, you can check again that the lids are sealed, remove the metal rings, and store your jam or give away as a gift.
For the record, I had 3.5 cups of berries, 3.5 cups of sugar, and it made about 4 half-pint jars.
The Beauty in Preserving Mother Nature’s Produce
All week long Jesse and I have been in amazement of how much food is growing in our very own big backyard. Just under two weeks ago, we had no idea that the thimbleberry was edible, and today we have four half-pints of it in our metaphorical pantry! We don’t REALLY have a pantry yet… for those of you that may be new to our blog, we’re living in an RV while we build a house off the grid!
Our foraging won’t stop with thimbleberries… we are continuing to eye more and more unique plants that others had no idea were edible! There are people all over the world practicing the art of foraging and supplementing their groceries with free food from the forest.
If you want a cool Instagram account to follow, it’s Wild Food Love… this will give you some awesome mouth-watering inspiration to see what is edible around YOUR home, even if it’s right in your very own neighborhood!
What is your experience with foraging? Do you make a habit of picking berries during berry season and then putting them to good use? Do you practice collecting a more bizarre plant like cattail (still want to try that one!)? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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