Love in a Bottle

fresh blueberries

Chris & I suddenly found ourselves without plans this past weekend and, after a somewhat relaxing weekend prior to this one (other than standing in the cold pouring rain at the opening night of Lollapalooza) it seemed like a good idea to hit the road and head over to the other side of the lake.

I’d already planned to take the day off on Friday, so Chris took it off too and off to Michigan we went. I mean, it is blueberry and peach season after all, and the folks from the lower peninsula AKA “the mitten” sure know how to farm. Turns out, they also know how to harvest some grapes.

me in the apple orchardchris picking blackberries

Our little venture was perfect. We got lucky and scored a cute little B&B in Harbour Country for one night. We used the majority of Friday and all of Saturday to taste wine (and of course buy it, again managing to procure almost two cases despite our two case + purchase in Napa earlier this March), drive the roads that instead of the smattering of skyscrapered skylines are always comforting with their heavy peppering of corn fields and pastures, and get our pick on for some dirt cheap seasonal fruit.

The wineries in southwest MI are refreshing. They aren’t snooty about their wine, but they’re proud and rightfully so. While nowhere near the complexity and richness of the Napa grapes, the MI vintners have a way of making quality varietals at reasonable prices. Our favorite place is Karma Vista and their Stone Temple Pinot (yes, the name isn’t bad either!); I will say we also went to quite possibly the weirdest winery ever and hands down the second cookiest place I can remember (the first being a tired trophy shop on the west side of Chicago – Cheryl and I decided we’d never be the same after that experience). Nonetheless, we loaded up and even discovered some new varieties including Traminette, Bonamego & Chambourcin.

bucket of blueberries

When we weren’t partaking in the grapes of Michigan, we were tackling some of the local fruit and produce farms. Having cleared out some freezer space, I was looking forward to loading up and having some good fruits in the middle of winter. I also wanted to try my hand at making preserves, and had a hankering for a blueberry buckle I’d recently read about. If truth be told, you just can’t get enough of the fresh seasonal fruits, especially if you can pick them yourself and save a little cash. We spent plenty of time at various farms: Lemon Creek for nectarines, Crane’s for peaches, the B&B for wild blackberries, and Earl’s for blueberries. I’m already thinking about how to weave a trip over for Honey Crisp apples and some pears come Fall….

preserve making

Aside from the wine, the mounds of cheap blueberries, peaches, nectarines, and wild blackberries, the real treat of the weekend was the quality time I got to spend with my favorite person. Sure, we live together and see each other every day, but the little road trips, the moments of silence in the car other than Wilco in the speakers, those are the instances I appreciate us. Those are the times I really take it all in, that’s when I sit & think, realizing I am so crazy in love. And so peaceful, so content and so downright slap-happy.

I want to take those memories, all of them, and bottle them up. I want to remember them when times get tough, if they get tough, so that we never forget those moments and so that we use them to build our relationship up rather than to ignore them and break it down. I want us, unlike so many others, to survive. I want us to be this happy forever – just from picking berries, together, in the hot August sun.

These days, love isn’t always enough. Being married isn’t always enough, and seeing each other every day surely isn’t always enough. But being in love, being in love is always enough.

bottled uppreserves

Fruit Preserves
each recipe makes 2 pints

Preserves are downright awesome. It’s a great way to make use of fresh, local fruits. And when you pick them yourself, a great way to preserve the memory as well. If you follow the canning instructions below, the preserves will last up to 1 year. The recipes can be easily modified, but do NOT try to double them as the pectin won’t work with large quantities.

I made three types of preserves: Peach-Cardamom, Blueberry-Lemon Verbena, and Blackberry-Sage.

6 cups of fresh fruit
additional flavorings (for spices/dried herbs I’d recommend 1 t; for fresh herbs 1 T)
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
sugar to your liking (I used 1 cup sugar, 1 cup Splenda but I saw some recipes that called for 4 cups of sugar; you can also use honey or other sweeteners)
pectin (measure according to package instructions; I purchased pectin for lower or natural sugar jam that also used calcium water that was provided in the package)

special equipment
a large pot for processing canned fruit
another large pot for making preserves
a medium pot for keeping lids warm
something to grab the hot jars (tongs or a special canning tool)
canning jars with sealable lid (has gummy lining) and ring (two pieces)
funnel, optional if you’re neat

Wash the fruit. Peel any peaches, nectarines, etc. Measure 6 cups fruit and place in a large bowl. Mash fruit to desired consistency (based on whether you like your jam chunky or smooth). Mix lemon or lime juice in with fruit and any other flavorings.

In a separate bowl, combine your sugars. Before you start making the jam, make sure you’ve cleaned/sanitized the jars (dishwashers are great here; keep the door closed so they stay warm) and have put the lids in a pot of simmering water (to soften the sealant) and brought another large pot of water to boil for processing.

In a large pot (I used dutch oven), combine the fruit mixture and heat to boil. Add pectin and about 1/2 of the sugar. Mix to dissolve and bring to boil again. Add remaining sugar and dissolve. Let the mix boil rapidly at least 1 minute.

Check the consistency. The jam will ‘gel’ more once it cools, so take a cold spoon and spoon out a little. Once it cools, see if the jam is to your liking in terms of consistency. If not, add in a little more pectin, 1/4 t should work and bring to boil again.

Once the jam is ready, place funnel (if using) atop warm jar and ladle jam into jar leaving 1/4 inch (or more) space. Place seal and ring atop jar and close. With tongs or other device, lower the jar into the large pot of boiling water, making sure it’s submerged fully, and leave for ~10 minutes. (The measurements should make about 2 pint sized jars of jam.)

Remove jars and cool completely, upright and in draft-free space. At some point, you’ll hear a popping sound. If you hear it once, it means the jars sealed successfully. If you keep hearing it, that’s bad and you’ll need to re-process with warm lids.

5 thoughts on “Love in a Bottle

  1. Caroline Shields says:

    -Love that picture of you at the farm! -Great post -Next time I am in MI I am checking out Stone Temple Pinot

  2. mark.burton says:

    try this simple recipe for a salad with your berries and peaches. I made it for Barry and Susan this weekend.sliced: tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, red onion, peaches and blue berries. toss with evoo, rice wine vinegar, S&P. top with blue cheese crumbles.

  3. Heather says:

    Mark – yum! I'm glad you joined the blog! I'm sure Barry loved the salad since it's super healthy – did he keep the blue cheese on there?! mmmm mmmm.

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