The Keweenaw had a bumper crop of thimbleberries this year. That makes everyone happy, as thimbleberry jam is big business up here. Since the berries grow in so few places in the U.S., thimbleberry jam is a hot commodity and is sold in many of the local shops for $13-$18 a jar. I'm talking a jelly jar, not a pint! Expensive stuff, right?
There are people and/or groups who pick berries to sell to jam makers, and some of the local jam makers had so many berries this year that they actually had to turn pickers away. They had no more room in their freezers. I'm sure that's probably happened in the past, but we've never heard of it happening in the time we've lived here. Since we make our own jam for our own consumption, we're fortunate to have thimbleberries growing on our property. We also pick in a few other top-secret spots which will only be revealed in our will. Those spots are closely guarded - sort of like season tickets to Packers games.
Because we were able to pick so many thimbleberries this year, Steve requested a thimbleberry pie. This is not a pie you'll find in the local restaurants or bakeries, as it would be very expensive to make. It's not a recipe you're going to find in a normal cookbook either, so I knew anything I attempted would be purely experimental. It's true that we have an abundance of berries in the freezer, but I wasn't taking any chances. I dared not waste too many of those precious red beauties on an experiment. Let's see. Cream cheese goes well with other berries, so why not attempt a pie with cream cheese as a key ingredient?
I have a lemon cream cheese pie recipe that's always a big hit, so I thought I would modify that one a bit. It's a recipe that actually makes 2 pies, so you can eat one now and freeze one for later! It calls for lemon juice and lemon instant pudding mix. Thimbleberries are tart, so I knew I would need a similar amount of sugar. I add lemon juice to my thimbleberry jam, so I would still add some of that. Now, what could I substitute for the lemon pudding that would go well with thimbleberries? I thought about strawberry rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is also tart and pairs well with strawberries, so I picked up a box of strawberry cream instant pudding to pair with the thimbleberries.
This is a 2-day recipe, but the 2 parts can be made 3-4 hours apart in a pinch. I didn't think to take photos on the first day, but here's what I did. The original recipe called for 2/3 c. lemon juice. It uses 1/3 c. the first day and the other 1/3 c. the second day. I used 1 Tbsp. lemon juice added to enough mashed thimbleberries to equal 2/3 c. (I know most of you don't have access to thimbleberries, so I'll include the complete recipe at the end of this post for those who do.)
I combined water, sugar, cornstarch & half my mashed thimbleberries & lemon juice in a large sauce pan; and cooked & stirred over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduced heat; cooked & stirred for 2 minutes. I beat a cup of the hot mixture into beaten egg yolks, and transferred it all back into the saucepan. After I brought it to a gentle boil, I reduced the heat and cooked & stirred for 2 more minutes. I removed it from the heat and stirred in butter & salt. I poured it in a glass bowl, covered the surface of the mixture with clear plastic wrap and chilled it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, I put the other half of my thimbleberries & lemon juice in a large bowl. . .
with cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk and the strawberry cream instant pudding mix.
I beat it with a mixer on low speed until smooth.
After adding in the chilled mixture from the previous day, I beat it on low speed until just combined.
I then poured it into 2 graham cracker crusts.
I put one in the refrigerator, and the other one is still resting nicely in the freezer. It's rich; only a small slice is needed. Add a dollop of Cool Whip when serving.
Steve loved it. Even my mom loved it, and she's not addicted to the jam!
What would I do differently? Next time, I'll add all the mashed thimbleberries (2/3 c.) to the sauce pan on the first day & add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to the bowl on the second day. (That's the way I wrote it in the recipe below.) I'll also use regular-size graham cracker crusts. I purchased the larger size this time, but I ended up making one pie a little shallow in order to fill the second crust. I might even experiment by going back to the lemon pudding, but the pies will probably be orange instead of pink.
There you have it. I guess I'll call this one:
Thimbleberry-Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie
- Yield: 2 pies (8 servings each)
- Made in 2 steps (minimum of 3-4 hours apart)
- 2-1/2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 2/3 cup mashed thimbleberries
- 3 well-beaten egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Dash salt
- 1 14 - ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 8 - ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1 sm. 4-serving-size package instant strawberry-cream pudding mix
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 graham cracker pie crusts (regular size, not large)
- Cool Whip (optional)
- In a large saucepan - combine the water, sugar, cornstarch & thimbleberries. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes.
- Beat about 1 cup of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Transfer mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, cook and stir for 2 more minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add butter & salt; stir until butter melts. Transfer to glass bowl. Cover surface of mixture with clear plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 to 24 hours.
- In a large bowl - combine sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, instant pudding mix & lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth (about 2 minutes). Add chilled mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.
- Turn into 2 graham cracker crusts. Keep refrigerated. Add a dollop of Cool Whip when serving.
Make Ahead Tip
You can make these pies ahead of time, then cover with plastic lids (from crusts) and freeze one to eat later (wrapping aluminum foil around the pie and lid). To defrost, let the pie stand at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours or place in the refrigerator overnight.
All is well in the Keweenaw.