Monday, 30 July 2012

Berried treasure

At this time of the year, in this part of the world, we are lucky enough to have our hillsides covered in bilberry bushes. It's not the easiest berry to pick but is arguably the most rewarding. This is maybe our fourth year of searching for these elusive little blue fruits, so I think we can call it a family tradition by now. There are photographs from the picking expedition of three years ago in which I am a couple of days away from giving birth to Monty, a huge and heavy presence in the undergrowth, walking and bending in an effort to get labour started.

In an effort to keep everyone happy I suggested the boys just ate what they found rather than having to put some in the pot. Instant gratification is really the only motivation for berry picking when you're three and five respectively. The two of them rolled and laughed together whilst picking, giving me a couple of hours reprieve from the almost constant bickering they're engaged in a lot of the time just now. It was great to see them at peace and enjoying each others company so much. They gorged themselves on berries and, when they tired of that, they climbed trees and made houses in the brush. All very wholesome and idyllic...

Bilberries, if you've never come across them before, are a lot like blueberries but smaller and tastier. They've got some lovely alternative names like windberry, whinberry and huckleberry, and the traditional way to eat them around these parts, so I'm told, is in a 'mucky mouth pie'. They're delicious in muffins and full of vitamin C so definitely worth the very fiddly and time-consuming process of getting enough to carry home. Finding them can be sometimes difficult - particularly if the deer have got to them first - but when you lift up a branch and discover a cluster of little blue orbs it really does feel like finding treasure.

Visiting nature's larder, rather than the local supermarket, is immensely satisfying. It can be an ethical minefield choosing and purchasing food for the family and if you're trying to make sure everyone's getting a good range of fruit and veggies it's pricey too. A punnet of blueberries is likely to have been flown halfway across the world and costs us a pretty penny at the end of its journey. Gathering one tub and two bellyfuls of bilberries from up the road costs us and the earth nothing and yet has given us more than just mucky mouths - it's given us a morning of outdoor fun and a little bit of family harmony, just when we needed it most.

Do you have bilberries near you? What do you make with them? What other wild foods do you and your family like to gather?

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