Foraging for a Keweenaw Classic: Thimbleberries
Late last month I visited Michigan for a couple of weeks, managing to fit in some time to visit one of my favorite places in the world – The Keweenaw. Im not normally one for hyperbole, but there is something about this place tucked away inside of Lake Superior. It is both naturally beautiful and testament to how place and people can interact to create a unique culture. Also it helped that I was with some of my favorite people (Jacquie, Kate, & Kris) too.
In my short two full days visiting I managed to get around to a good deal of my must-to-dos (feet in Superior, pasty lunch, and an afternoon pint of KBC) and was introduced to some great new things going down (Look for more on Brickside brewery latter). I am ashamed to admit I didn’t even think about thimbleberries until Jacquie and I biked past a couple people picking on the side of the trail… could it be? Yes, we were there in time for thimbleberry season!
Thimbleberry Season in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula
Forging Season: Between late July and Mid August (depending on season of course).
Where to look: The reason why this is such a classic Keweenaw activity is that the patches of these broad leaved bushes are EVERYWHERE. We found them on the bike path, on the side of the roadway, and sporadically in deciduous forests.
Identifying Thimbleberries: Big broad green leaves the size of your hand, with fruits similar to a flat raspberry. If the ruby red berry falls apart in your hands it is prime for eating. Please, ask a yooper if you have any doubts. More information on identifying this plant available here.
I never lived in the Keweenaw for an entire summer, but I do know I could manage to find a few thimbleberry stragglers hidden in shaded woods a couple weeks before school started at Michigan Tech. Likewise when I was up there last month (late July) the bushes in full sun were going strong, while ones hidden down in ditches were just beginning to produce fruit.
If you are a strictly opportunist picker, like myself, then the only logical thing to do with your thimbleberry haul is eat them. Immediately. They taste like a raspberry amplified in all the best ways. Thimbleberries, they melt in your mouth and in your hands. More prepared foragers than myself will collect the berries in small baskets and then quickly use the fruit to make jam. Jam is great way to savor this treat for longer, but you need to be prepared to deal with a mess of delicate fruit that has to be handled quickly.
And, yes, I know we do have thimbleberries in the Sierra too. I have seen them by Illiouette Creek and heard other reported sightings from inside Yosemite. But lets be honest, I have never have anyone stop the car in the middle a scenic byway to hop the guardrail and pick some thimbleberries in California. Nor I am unaware of any California monastery making thimbleberry jam like it is their higher calling, or West Coast breweries concocting an allegedly mind-blowing thimbleberry beer. This is why I am saying that if you seek thimbleberries, maybe consider a trip to the U.P.