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Two similar looking and tasting berries share the name of Thimbleberries.

Rubus odoratus: Found in the Eastern half of North America, the berries are red; the bush produces pink blossoms.
Rubus parviflorus: Found in the Western half of North America, the berries are orangish-red; the bush produces white blossoms.

They can be discussed as the same berry, with the few differences pointed out as they arise. Each of course has "sub" varieties.

Thimbleberry bushes can grow from seed or from cuttings from the rhizome (a part of the root.) The bush grows upright, up to a height of 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 metres), with thornless canes that are largely self-supporting. It has large, soft leaves (4 to 8 inches,10 to 20 cm long) that look somewhat like maple tree leaves, with 3, 5 or 7 points. There are fine hairs on the leaves.

The Western Thimbleberry flowers for a only short time in June, producing its berries in July and August; the Eastern Thimbleberry flowers and produces berries continuously from June to September. Both have large blossoms 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5 to 3.5 cm) wide, in clusters of 2 to 7. Some variations have double-petaled blossoms. All the bushes rely on insects for pollination.

Thimbleberries ripen from green to white to pink to bright red, scarlet or crimson. They can fully ripen quickly, sometimes in one day. Though the berries detach so easily from the stem when ripe that you can almost just brush them off, they are also very soft which makes them hard to pick without squishing them. Eastern Thimbleberries are less juicy than the Western ones, but both have lots of seeds.

The taste is usually sweet, but can be tart, depending on weather conditions while growing. Both Eastern and Western varieties need a good bit of heat to produce sweet berries, not to mention if they are to produce berries in abundance at all. But in dry weather, the bushes will often produce berries when raspberry bushes balk. Both Western and Eastern ones have a less pronounced taste than raspberries that is often described as "mild." Some wags say that calling the taste "mild" is a euphemism for "non-existent." But in fact, the flavour varies a lot from variety to variety in both the Western and Eastern bushes, as there hasn't been a great deal of energy expended to date on variety selection for taste.

When picked, Thimbleberries are somewhat hollow inside like a shallow cup. If you turn them upside down, they look like a thimble that might fit on one of your fingers. Consequently, because they are hollow inside, you need a lot of them to do anything with.

North American aboriginals combined the leaves with those from other fruit plants to make herbal tea.

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Also called:

Ronce parviflore (French)


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Bon mots

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-- Andre Simon (Food writer & wine critic. 1877- 1970)

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