My family’s humble, lakeside cabin in northern Wisconsin is way, way up there—at the tippy top of the state, in fact, just shy of the UP, halfway across.
As if a week in that fabulous place with my fabulous family weren’t enough reward, most years I also come home with a parting gift: anywhere from a pint to a couple quarts of wild raspberries, scored from the winding gravel drive between the house and County FF.
Not this year, though.
Sister-in-Law Joan and I scrounged just a couple berries apiece on one of our morning walks. Whether it was last winter’s record snowpack, its record-cold temps, or the resurgence of the ferns after my folks allowed some logger neighbors to thin the woods a few years ago, the wild-razz crop this summer was practically nil.
Back here at home, however, the berry tap is flowing freely. In just a week since the first blackberry plumped up and purpled from its tight red fist, we’ve pulled about five quarts out of the thicket, with many, many more waiting to ripen.
So yesterday, my first day back from vacation, was a day spent at the stove, kickstarting a triple batch of the Blackberry-Bourbon Jam I improvised last year, and experimenting (again) with really, really slow food: An hours-simmered, honey-tinged fruit butter.
Honey-Sweetened Blackberry Butter
Here’s another super-small batch of preserves. Two quarts of fruit cooks down, down, down into about a pint and a half of finished product. I put them up in small (quarter-pint) jars, since honey doesn’t have the preserving power that straight-up sugar does. If you process the jars, they’ll be shelf stable for up to a year, but once you open a jar, keep it in the fridge and use it up within a month or so.
- 4 cups blackberries, washed and picked over carefully to remove stems, bugs, etc.
- 2/3 cup filtered water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 – 3 tbsp demerara sugar (optional)
- juice and zest of half a lemon
Take about half the berries and strain out the seeds (and any tough cores) by running them through a food mill or pressing them through a fine-meshed sieve or chinois into a wide-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Discard the seeds and pulp (I added a couple spoonfuls to a frozen banana, some maple yogurt, and a splash of OJ for a fiber-rich smoothie, then put the rest in the compost bin).
Add the remaining whole berries to the pot and set the flame to medium. Stir in the water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. When the berries start to soften, squish them up with a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s good and thick.
YMMV, depending on the size of your pan, how juicy your berries are, how ripe your berries are, and how low your burner can be set. My batch took just over three hours—or long enough for me to plow through four loads of vacation laundry.
Load into sterilized jars, and either refrigerate after they cool or process in a hot-water canning bath for ten minutes.
One final note: I picked these berries just shy of fully ripe (1) because I suspected greener berries would have a firmer set, (2) because most of the really big, super-ripe berries had been poked at by birds and/or those iridescent green June beetles, and (3) we were expecting big thunderstorms overnight. After tasting toward the end of cook time, I sprinkled in a few spoonfuls of raw sugar to deepen and soften the flavor a little bit.