The mountains that surround our hill top kitchen are gluttonous places, and in mid July they become home to one of my favourite finds of the year… Just as the nights turn darker in so dark inky berries start to punctuate the hillsides and foragers hands no longer smell of nectar laden flowers but of sugar filled inky berries.
From now until the end of November there will be a distinctive shade of purple about my gatherings; from almost black elderberries and blackberries to sloes and damsons dusted with a white bloom. But for now, it is time to gather the earliest and most elusive of the purple berries; wild blueberries. You might know these little berries as Whimberries or Bilberries according to which side of Offas Dyke you live, but where ever you reside you’ll find these delicious little berries on the same type of ground; high up on mountain sides. Children around the Black Mountains are agile mountain goats and head of to the hills with margarine tubs that they spend hours filling in return for the guarantee of a large slice of blueberry pie as their reward.
If you spend an afternoon gathering these inky berries, you’ll realise how precious your haul is – you’ll be covered in staining juice, with tired legs and a small pot of fruit for your efforts. This is a forage that needs to be treated like you’d treat rare jewels; make the most of their flavours in special treats you can enjoy through the year…place your first handful in a bottle of vodka with a sprig of heather flowers to make a sweet delicious liqueur, your second in a bottle of cider vinegar with a few myrtle leaves, and put your third handful in a pan of apple pectin to make a delicious whimberry conserve.
Through out the rest of the year you’ll be able to sup on your afternoons pickings – adding a splash of dark purple to sparkling wine, a drizzle of fruity sweetness to a winter salad and a silky coating to buttery toast.
But leave a handful for you to eat now, sprinkled on a thick creamy yoghurt, or in a pastry worth climbing mountains for – even for a small slice
This is my version of the classic & longed for Whimberry pie, a delicious combination of whimberry and bay – flavours that call out to be put together. This little desert looks like something you’d find in a bakers window, a baker who happened to be perched on the mountain side.
Wild Blueberry and Bay pastries.
Wild blueberries pair really well with bay leaves. I use fresh leaves from my rambling bay shrub in the garden, but dried bay is just as good. Bay leaf is delicious in any cream based dish
First roll out a sheet of shop bought puff pastry on a sheet of greaseproof paper (you can make your own but I’d rather be outside picking than inside pastry making), place the pastry on the paper on a baking tray, score the pastry to make 5 cm by 10 cm rectangles, place the pastry in an oven preheated to 200 degrees, and cook until golden and puffed up.
Next, make the Bay infused crème patisserie. Gently heat 350ml of milk and add to the milk 3 bay leaves – leave the bay to infuse for 15 minutes. Meanwhile mix 2 egg yolks with 20g flour and 15g cornflour, 25g sugar and 50ml milk – mix until smooth, and then blend in the wamr milk. Return the mixture to the pan and stir until the mixture is thick. If you wish you can whip and fold in the 2 egg whites. Leave the crème to cool.
break the pastry into rectangles, and slice across each piece, dollop a spoonful of crème on the bottom layer, and sprinkle with wild blueberries. Top with the other half of the pastry, dust with icing sugar and serve with inky fingers..