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Thimbleberries remind me of durian fruit, but they aren’t malodorous. I have smelled a group of men coming off 23 days climbing peaks in the Alaska Range who haven’t smelled as bad as a ripe durian. Rather, the similarity between the two is the way in which they divide people into those that love it and those who don’t.
Gathering Alaska: Thimbleberries, the durian of the berry world 072617 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly Thimbleberries remind me of durian fruit, but they aren’t malodorous. I have smelled a group of men coming off 23 days climbing peaks in the Alaska Range who haven’t smelled as bad as a ripe durian. Rather, the similarity between the two is the way in which they divide people into those that love it and those who don’t.

The large flowers of the thimbleberry. Photo by Corinne Conlon.


The thimbleberries are slow to develop this year. Photo by Corinne Conlon.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Story last updated at 7/25/2017 - 6:32 pm

Gathering Alaska: Thimbleberries, the durian of the berry world

Thimbleberries remind me of durian fruit, but they aren’t malodorous. I have smelled a group of men coming off 23 days climbing peaks in the Alaska Range who haven’t smelled as bad as a ripe durian. Rather, the similarity between the two is the way in which they divide people into those that love it and those who don’t.

I love berries and enjoy the process of picking them, so I continue to work very hard to love the thimbleberry. Yet, I remain ho hum about the flavor while others ooze excitement about the complexity that emits from a single bite.

As with all the other berries this year, thimbleberries are slow in developing. They form a hedge with large, white flowers that create a stark contrast against the large dark green leaves. If you find one thimbleberry, you tend to find several clustered together.

The berries are a bright frosted red with a powdery softness to them. Like many, they form around a hull. When harvesting other berries, such as strawberries or nagoonberries, the calyx is also picked but the hull is removed when picking thimbleberries. This causes the thimbleberry to fold in on itself, rather than retaining its shape. That is, unless you prop it on your finger as if you were at a quilting bee and wanted to protect your finger against harm.

In my friend’s garden, I used to pull out thimbleberry roots that would travel below the surface to pop out in unwanted places. This is the same manner in which raspberries create new shoots. Another similarity is that individual thimbleberries ripen at different times. So, like raspberries, you don’t go picking them all in one excursion. You need to revisit them. This is especially true if there are only a few bushes around.

When they are more plentiful, you can fill out your bucket with enough thimbleberries to make something. At a Cooperative Extension event last year, Sarah Lewis brought a frozen gallon bag to make into a quick jam. This seemed to intensify the flavor to make the preserve more appealing.

My thimbleberry-loving friends describe how even off the bush the tastes are compacted and intensified. “It’s like an uber-raspberry.” They are not completely immune to why other people don’t like it; they’ll admit the texture is mushy. I’ve yet to pick a thimbleberry that didn’t dissolve immediately when I picked it. But, there is a certain dense quality about them that seems intriguing.

If the texture isn’t off-putting, there are also the countless seeds with which you have to contend. For those who like the berry, it doesn’t seem to bother them. Kim Hort, an aficionado declares, “It’s like a nut and a berry in one.”

Just as a parent coaxes a toddler to trying another bite of an unwanted food, I try to clear my mind of the biases I hold for thimbleberries and try again each year. I haven’t found a ripe berry this year to test the theory that if you just try something enough times, you’ll end up liking it. One year, I hope to espouse the joys of thimbleberries.

Corinne Conlon’s Gathering Alaska column appears seasonally in the Capital City Weekly.