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Berry Watch 2013 // Part 4: Thimbleberries

Over the course of the spring and the early summer, I was dying to try thimbleberries. As with many of the fruits mentioned in the Berry Watch posts, I had only learned what thimbleberries were early in the spring – like salmonberries, raspberries, and blackberries, they are part of the Rubus genus of berry. As soon as I turned to the “Thimbleberry” section in Wild Berries of British Columbia, I was sold. “Thimbleberry is one of the most delicious native berries you will find in BC (and beyond!)” raves Fiona Hamersley Chambers in Wild Berries. “…The taste is somewhat like a raspberry, but more intense and flavourful with a sharper ‘tang’” (p. 74). Between that description and the picture of the gorgeous, red-fuschia ripe berry on the same page, my mouth was watering. Too bad it was only April – I had several months to kill before the fruits ripened in July!

 

 My first "taste" of thimbleberries was a tasty description in  Wild Berries of British Columbia  by Fiona Hamersley Chambers.

My first "taste" of thimbleberries was a tasty description in Wild Berries of British Columbia by Fiona Hamersley Chambers.

From that point forward, I was on close thimbleberry watch during my visits to Stanley Park. Luckily, even without flowers or fruit, thimbleberry shrubs are easy to spot: they are large, and have big, fuzzy, maple-shaped leaves. In early to mid May, their big white flowers began to emerge:

 A thimbleberry shrub in May. Note the large maple-shaped leaves and white flowers.

A thimbleberry shrub in May. Note the large maple-shaped leaves and white flowers.

In early June, green berries started to appear. Note that their drupes (the little bumps all over the fruit) are smaller than those of a raspberry:

 Some unripe thimbleberries at the beginning of June. 

Some unripe thimbleberries at the beginning of June. 

By late June, the berries were changing colour to a pale yellow / dusty rose:

 A ripening thimbleberry in late June. 

A ripening thimbleberry in late June. 

 This thimbleberry is getting there! It should be ripe pretty soon!

This thimbleberry is getting there! It should be ripe pretty soon!

My first taste of thimbleberries happened not at Stanley Park, but while I was on Salt Spring Island, on July 7 - yes, the event was so significant that I made note of the day! I was walking along from the “downtown” part of the island toward a forested park, and noticed a few thimbleberry shrubs along the side of the road. To my delight, they were adorned with several ripe berries ready for picking. I learned that thimbleberries respond best to a steady hand when they are being plucked from the shrub; though they look quite solid, they are actually just fragile little domes that can easily slip out of clumsy fingers and onto the ground. A shape analogy: if a raspberry were a head, a thimbleberry would be a beanie.

 A ripe thimbleberry in July. Finally!

A ripe thimbleberry in July. Finally!

Folks, as far as I’m concerned, these little fruits live up to the hype – they are spectacularly tangy and sweet.  Forget raisins – thimbleberries steal the title of “nature’s candy.”

In my previous post, I mentioned I’ve witnessed berries that ripen slowly and gradually (such as salal), and those that live fast and die young (such as red elderberry). Thimbleberries possess a touch of both. The shrubs that I come across will often have two or three ripe berries, several not-quite-ripe ones, as well as many that have mummified in the sun. There is a gradual process to the ripening of thimbleberries – they are not yet finished for the season – but they are so fragile that they don’t last long once they are mature.

You probably won’t be able to collect a bucket of thimbleberries as you would blackberries – it’s doubtful that there would be quantity or substance enough to fill a receptacle, and even if there was, these fragile fruits would not hold their shape for long. However, they are a wonderful “living for the moment” fruit. If you see a ripe thimbleberry, please eat it, enjoy it, and let it be a reminder to enjoy the sweetness of the present.