About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Bilberry fields forever

I should have written this post a couple of weeks ago. Bilberries have a long season, but not forever and I suspect they're over now. Even when I went out looking for them in mid August, I worried that this might be all I'd find:

One slightly withered bilberry clinging to a bush

My sister was staying in early July and while we were out for a walk, she spotted a good place for bilberries, complete with several people who had clearly just been picking said berries, and were at that time wiping the juice off their fingers. Being a bit slow to get round to things, it was over a month later that I set out with plastic tubs in my backpack, down through the dark forest...

I'm not sure whether this picture captures just how steep that path is,
but let me assure you, it is steep.

... to the nature reserve beyond, where many bilberries may be found:

Bilberries as far as the eye can see. Well, not quite, but lots of them.
The purple bits are flowering heather.

Bilberries are never very densely packed on the bushes, but I was relieved to find that they weren't quite as sparse as I'd initially feared.

Several bilberries, all on the same bush

For those who don't know, bilberries are similar to blueberries, but smaller. They grow wild in moorland and hilly areas, including this bit of West Wales. With such an abundance of wild fruit on my doorstep, I feel almost duty bound to collect it, though it did take rather a long time. After about three hours of foraging (you really have to enjoy this activity to do it - the returns aren't worth the time invested otherwise), I had a couple of pots full of berries...

Bilberries in a pot

... and a husband on the phone wondering if I was planning on coming home, you know, ever? He kindly offered to come and fetch me in the car, which meant I didn't have to climb up that very steep path.

I would have climbed this path, but I wasn't looking forward to it

It took Ian longer than he'd expected to get to me (short walk along the path, long drive around by road) so while I was waiting, I picked a few blackberries that were growing near the spot we'd agreed to meet. By the time we got home it was well into the evenings (hence the phone call) so I left processing the berries until the next day. I did, however, put a desertspoonful of lemon pips, saved for this purpose, into a small pot of water to soak overnight. The reason for this is that bilberries are low in pectin, so won't set easily as jam, and lemon pips are a good source of pectin. Preparing the berries the next day wasn't really that much work, just checking them over and picking off the stalks, but it still takes a while. I weighed them...

1 lb 5 oz of bilberries

... put a few aside for adding to cakes, and started stewing the rest, with the lemon pips in a little bag, to make jam. They mushed down pretty quickly, and I shook some sugar in. I wasn't very precise about this, but I was aiming for about a pound, to then add more until it tasted about right. OK, about half a bag goes in... oh hang on, that's a TWO KILO bag, not two pounds! PANIC! First I added the ounce or so of bilberries I'd put aside for cakes - that wouldn't make much difference, though. I also added the blackberries, which I'd decided not to use in jam because of the pips. Still not enough. I rushed outside with a colander and picked blackberries growing by the driveway, along the railway fence. The train only goes past four times a day, so the pollution shouldn't be much of an issue. I've no idea what quantity of fruit I ended up with, but the resulting mixture ended up tasting pretty much like jam - a bit too sweet, but not excessively so. Phew!

Because I'd added the pip-laden blackberries I seived the mixture before boiling it to jam-stage, which was a nuisance. After that came the boiling and the wrinkle test, then I ended up with seven jars of slightly-too-sweet bilberry and blackberry jam. It set nicely, or possibly like toffee - I haven't tried any from a jar yet, though I had a little that never made it into a jar, and that was very tasty.

Bilberry and blackberry jam


  1. Didn't the Moomins eat lots of Bilberry jam? That looked like proper foraging..through a haunted forest etc! (I'm off to look for my old moomin books)

  2. I never read the Moomins as a child (I tried, but didn't get on with them. My teacher sat me on his knee - can't imagine that nowadays - and said, "You're not enjoying this, are you?" I was astonished by the idea that schoolwork should be enjoyable!) but I had to look them up just now. I didn't find any reference to bilberry jam, but I did find an excellent review http://werewolf.co.nz/2009/12/classics-tales-from-moominvalley-1962-by-tove-jansson/

    I want to read all the moomin stories now!


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