Bilberries look like small blueberries, and they are closely related, but their taste is much more intense and sharp. As someone who finds blueberries just a touch too sweet, for me they are a perfect alternative, but you will need to work hard to find them. Extremely difficult to grow and therefore rarely cultivated, bilberries are a real treat for a forager.
My favourite way to eat them is popped in my mouth one by one during a bracing hill walk – the Brecon Beacons have always provided rich pickings for me – but as long as you have a sturdy container to carry them in, as they squash easily, you can gather a couple of handfuls to take home and use in pies, fools, compotes or even make jam.
Here is a recipe for one of my favourite cakes, a bilberry and almond streusel sponge. Rich and buttery, the bilberries add fantastic little bursts of sharpness to cut through the sweetness of the cake. If you are not planning a hill walk you could always, as I have many times, substitute the bilberries for redcurrants or blackcurrants with great effect.
- Unsalted butter 200g, softened to room temperature
- Caster sugar 200g
- Eggs 4
- Ground almonds 200g
- Plain flour 50g
- Baking powder 1 heaped tsp
- Bilberries 200g, or use red or blackcurrants
- Almonds 100g, blanched, and chopped
- Butter 40g
- Dark brown sugar 40g