Renowned wild food forager James Wood, who runs cookery and foraging courses throughout the UK, goes foraging for bilberries and shares with us one of his favourite recipes for bilberry and apple pie
My favourite time of the year, the bilberry season! These miniature wild blueberries seriously pack a punch of flavour and we’re in a unique location to find them. I honestly think each individual bilberry is worth 10 blueberries, although they’re difficult to pick it’s definitely worth taking out a food tub and spending a bit of time foraging for them.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Bilberries are a hairless low growing undershrub, covering large areas of land. They grow to a maximum height of 50cm, but can look taller when growing on sharply angled ground.
The flowers, appearing in clusters from April to June, are globular or urn shaped, greenish turning pink with a length and width of 5mm to 6mm.
The bright green leaves are oval shaped, often with a wavy margin and are finely toothed.
The purple to black fruit ripens from August through to September, growing within the whole shrub, making them more difficult to pick. They’re globular shaped 5mm to 6mm in length and width with an indented tip.
Bilberry and Apple Pie
I first began making this bilberry pie for my grandma as the bilberry is one of her favourite foods. I have come to believe that the recipe below is the best for a pie as it makes your bilberries go quite far but also holds on to the fantastic flavours that the bilberry has over its commercially-grown cousin, the blueberry.
Makes one pie to serve eight. For the pastry (or use ready-made short crust pastry):
300g plain flour
3 tbsp water
Pinch of salt
Add the flour, salt and butter to a large bowl and rub the mixture together (using your fingers is more fun but a spoon can be used) until it resembles bread crumbs.
Now add the water, a tea spoon at a time, until your dough binds together sufficiently.
Wrap this in cling film and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
For the filling:
500g cooking apples, peeled and cored (cut them as you like, diced or quartered)
100g caster sugar
Heat the butter in a large pan and add the apples and sugar, leaving to cook for five to 10 minutes, depending on how soft you like your apples.
Now add your bilberries and cook the lot for a further five minutes.
Bringing it together:
Pre-heat your oven to 200C.
Take a medium sized oven proof pie dish and rub more or any remaining butter all around the inside.
Roll out one half of your pastry and use this to line your dish, you can either flash bake this now or put your filling straight in, either way – put the filling in.
Roll out the other half of your pastry and place it over your filling, on top of the dish, and cut off any excess.
Using a knife cut two 3cm holes in the top of your pie, sprinkle with a little more sugar and leave it to bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Serve this hot with thick cream or lovely vanilla ice cream and enjoy!
The Foragers’ Cookbook is available at: www.totallywilduk.co.uk