A meditation on berries and Bayfield

Blue Vista Farm near Bayfield, WI.

Blue Vista Farm near Bayfield, WI.

There are many ways to meditate.

I’ve found a good method for me is picking raspberries.

There’s something mesmerizing about reaching through dense, dark green leaves looking for a red, fat, juicy nugget of summer’s zenith. The juice staining your hands red and the sun hopefully not turning your skin red. I wore long sleeves and my big berry-picking hat this year, so I stayed my usual shade of vampire white and avoided forearms that look like I lost a fight with several cats. 

It’s easy to lose yourself in picking raspberries. They call it “flow” — that kind of mindful activity that engages all your senses and lets you lose track of time. It’s easy to pick berries for hours without realizing it — the next ripe berry lures you just a little further down the patch and pretty soon the sun is high above your head and you have picked an entire row.

Every summer for the last five years, Richard and I have made the six hour trip up to Bayfield County for a long weekend. We stay at the Siskiwit Bay Lodge, a four-room inn near little Cornucopia that faces west over the lake. The owners, Bruce and Sandy Von Riedel, have become dear friends and another compelling reason to make the trip. We typically take in a show at Big Top Chautauqua. This year it was Lyle Lovett & His Large Band. Previous years, we’ve seen Emmylou Harris, The Mavericks and Rufus Wainwright. It’s a really unique and intimate place to see a concert and all the volunteers who run it are delightful. 

A big part of the tradition has become raspberry picking at Blue Vista Farm, just south of Bayfield. The name is apt — the blueberries, raspberries and apple trees are spread across a hill that overlooks Lake Superior. Their gardens are beautiful and there’s usually a breeze off the lake and butterflies flitting among the fields. It’s a good spot for berry meditation. We

The raspberries spread out across a couple large fields.

The raspberries spread out across a couple large fields.

A few years ago, we happened upon some organic raspberries they grow called Purple Royalty. I was trying my hand at making raspberry liqueur since I don’t like the medicinal taste of Chambord. The Purple Royalties happened to be ripe, whereas the typical berries were already mostly finished. We took them back home and I discovered that these particular raspberries make pretty spectacular liqueur — rich, less tart, deeply flavored when infused and cooked. After that, we had to get Purple Royalty raspberries every year and the amount of liqueur I make has grown exponentially.

This year, the weather threw us a curveball, though. We booked our trip to coincide with Lyle Lovett and the third week of July was perfect timing for berry picking. Except it wasn’t. The cool summer had pushed everything back two weeks. No dark purple beauties to pick for another 10 days. 

We looked at coming back the first weekend in August. Everything was booked and it seemed nuts to drive 12 hours and spend hundreds of dollars for a hotel room in order to pick raspberries. That’s when Bruce and Sandy came to the rescue. They let us stay as guests in their home so we could come back and load up on berries. We had a wonderful time sharing the last bottle of the 2018 batch with them, topping it off with Prosecco while watching the sun set over Lake Superior and snacking on smoked whitefish dip from Ehler’s Store in Cornucopia. 

We picked berries for six hours on Saturday and two hours before getting in the car to drive home on Sunday. That was about 50 pounds of berries. The sweet young woman at the Blue Vista counter got to know us well this summer. And, yes, we were covered in raspberry juice and looked pretty deranged by the time we were done.

These berries are from this year’s first visit to Blue Vista Farm. The Purple Royalties are much darker.

These berries are from this year’s first visit to Blue Vista Farm. The Purple Royalties are much darker.

So, now we’re home and I’m making a lot of raspberry liqueur. During my berry meditation, I finally came up with the name for this magical stuff — Purple Reign. A nod to Prince, since we make Raspberry Beret cocktails from it, and it works with the berry variety. Sweet!

So stop by the bar at Lark starting Tuesday, Aug. 13th, and give Purple Reign Liqueur a try. You can drink it straight in a cordial glass or have it in a cocktail. And please raise a glass to Bruce and Sandy. Without them, we wouldn’t be enjoying a ripe glass of summer. Friendship truly makes everything taste better.

Joan Neeno