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The large pubescent (that means fuzzy) leaves of the Thimbleberry are pretty easy to identify. It's time to go foraging for great wild Door County favorites again and we're talking berries this time of year. With five state parks, and a ton of other properties that have local public access, you're in luck to find some great picking. I headed out this week for the often overlooked Thimbleberry. As a formality, I have to first state that in order to preserve state parks' natural beauty for all of us (visitors and locals), it's against Wisconsin law to destroy or remove any natural growth or natural feature from the parks. However, you are allowed to pick edible fruits, nuts, wild mushrooms and wild asparagus, except in State Natural Areas. You will likely first notice the big white blossom and oversized leaves of the plant especially while driving highway 57 along the lakeside from Glidden Drive all the way to New Port State Park in Ellison Bay. The plants tend to like the well drained, sandy soils of the east side of the Peninsula. Thimbleberries are delicate and fall off the plant like taking off a cap, and by it's size, can fit over your finger tips like a thimble.
Ripe thimbleberries have an subtle honey and elderflower aroma, and a sweet/tart taste similar to a raspberry. The texture is a little fuzzy, and there are many little seeds that will find their way into the spaces between your teeth. But flavor! Boom! The minute you bite down you get an intense berry hit. Nice aftertaste too, subtle and a bit dusty. It really reminds me of a fat-ish, squashed raspberry that's not quite as juicy. So treat this berry as you would a raspberry. I particularly love it because its NOT as sweet. The tartness balances out all the over sugared recipes you may use. Only pick the deep red berries, and avoid any with discolored spots, squished edges, or too many spiders cocooned around them. Thimbleberries are incredibly delicate so be really careful when reaching into the shrub to pick ‘em. Too much pressure with your fingers and your prize will be reduced to a juicy red smear. Worse, if you're not careful, the berries will just fall off to be lost in the tall grass (and you'll only get better at using new expletives). I find it best to reach out with your container under the berries, just in case. After an hour’s worth of picking, you can gross a full Ziploc container, about 4 cups, just enough to make Thimbleberry jam, but if you're not up for it, you can check out the local markets to find their creations. Koepsel's Farm Market on Highway 57 is a good stop if you come up short on your hunt. Thimbleberry jam is pretty classic, as are pies, strudels, preserves, and all manner of other pectin-packed sweet treats.
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