Wild berry picking in Shropshire

Every year during October half term, we head towards the Shropshire Hills for a long walk and to pick berries in the last of the watery autumn sunshine.

Shropshire hills

The berries that we go to look for are Crow Berries, Cowberries (also known as Lingonberries) and Whinberries. Mostly Whinberries, but it’s a shame to leave the other berries there when they’re easily picked along with the whinberries.

Crow Berries

These are probably called Crow Berries because they’re black, or because Crows eat them? I don’t know why they’re called that, but they’re good to pick. Their flavour isn’t in the same league as the other two berries – they taste sweet but a little watery. They’re known as ‘pie fillers’ because of their ability to be thrown into pies along with other, tastier fruit to make a little go a long way. However, they’re incredibly high in vitamin C so are a good addition to your pie. They grow very close to the ground and you can sometimes see them as a massive carpet over rocks and hills.

Crow Berries – easy to see, easy to miss!

Cowberries

Cowberries (commonly known as Lingonberries) are fantastic little things! Packed full of vitamins and good amounts of omega oils in the seeds. They are tart, like cranberries but a lot smaller. In fact, Lingonberries and Cranberries are interchangeable. Because they are so sharp, they aren’t really good for eating raw, but they are so good made into a jam which you can use in place of Redcurrant Jelly or Cranberry Sauce.

Whinberries

Whinberries, depending on where you live are also called Whortleberries, Bilberries, Blaeberries and Huckleberries! Whatever you call them, they’re well worth seeking out. They’re a smaller version of blueberries – just as tasty, packed with as many nutrients – but free for the picking! It can be back breaking work collecting enough for a pie, but believe me when I tell you that it is WELL worth the effort! They grow low to the ground like the other two berries, so it’s great to take children with you as they’re lower to the ground to start with! I’d recommend taking a small plastic bag that you can hook over your arm to put the Whinberries in, with a couple of smaller bags inside to separate any other berries that you find.

Your fingers quickly get stained with the juice from the berries, but we look on it as a badge of honour and think that whoever has most purple on their hands, must have picked most berries and thus deserves a bigger slice of pie!

We left with a good amount of berries and definitely enough Whinberries to make a pie when we got home. Put the berries in a bowl of cold water when you get home and stir around with your hand. Leave them to soak for a few minutes so that all of the tiny leaves and bugs can float to the surface and you can scoop them off. Leave to drain in a sieve. Don’t leave them to soak for too long, you don’t want them waterlogged.

Our haul

Whinberry Pie

This recipe makes a buttery, crumbly pastry base and a thin, almondy top. You can make it with as many Whinberries as you’ve managed to collect – maybe bulk it out with some Blueberries from the supermarket or some Crowberries if you managed to get some of those – but the amount below makes for a lovely thick filling of delicious Whinberries.

Pastry

The pastry is a rich one made with 125g (8oz) plain flour, 25g (1oz) cornflour, 2tsp caster sugar, 110g butter (4oz), 1 egg yolk and 2tblsp cold water. Sift together the flours, add caster sugar. Rub in the butter. Add the yolk and water – stir together with a knife until it comes together into a ball of dough. Put in a plastic bag and chill for 15-30 minutes. Oven 400 F, 200 C Gas 6. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and line a 22cm (9 inch). Line with foil and beans and bake blind for 10 mins or so until beginning to firm. Cool.

Spread the part cooked pastry case with around 500g whinberries (1lb), or a mixture of whinberries/cowberries and bought blueberries. You could also make this recipe just using blueberries. You won’t need to add any sugar to them – you want to be able to taste all of that gorgeous fruit.

Pie Topping

Oven 325 F 180 C Gas 3. Mix together 50g icing sugar (4oz) with 2 eggs, 85g ground almonds (3oz) with a whisk or an electric hand mixer. You can add a couple of drops of almond/vanilla essence to this mixture if liked. Blob the mixture over the whinberries until you’ve blobbed the mixture over pretty much all over the blueberries. You may have some gaps – don’t worry, this pie is all about the whinberries. Bake for 45-55 minutes until golden brown. Dust with icing sugar if liked.

Serve with cream.

Well worth the back ache…mmmmmm.

Making cheese from scratch – Paneer

Paneer is an Indian cheese which doesn’t really taste of much – it’s gently milky, but is perfect to absorb the flavours of Indian cooking. It has a good texture, doesn’t melt when cooked and is also a great source of protein. It’s also exceptionally easy to make. You can’t substitute it for any other cheese, so if you can’t buy it – make some!

If you’ve ever wanted to have a go at cheese making, but you’re not sure where to start, making paneer could be the step you’re looking for. You don’t need any special equipment or cultures and it’s very satisfying when you see the end result.

You will need:

Equipment

  • a large saucepan
  • a large bowl such as a washing up bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • large sieve or colander
  • a piece of thin cloth such as muslin, a tea towel, an old t-shirt! Make sure that the cloth is very clean but doesn’t smell of fabric conditioner or washing powder as the smell will taint the cheese.
Ingredients –
  • 2 litres (3 1/2 pints) whole milk (don’t be tempted to use semi skimmed or skimmed – it doesn’t work)
  • 1 lemon (2tbsp lemon juice), you can also substitute the lemon juice for live whole milk yogurt or white vinegar, although the vinegar can sometimes leave a vinegary taste to the finished cheese if you use too much.

Put the milk into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Keep stirring the bottom of the pan, so that the milk doesn’t catch, if it does you’ll end up with the brown bits of burnt milk in your cheese.

As the milk comes to the boil and starts to rise up the pan, add the lemon juice and stir gently. This will make the milk separate into curds and whey. If the curds (the white lumps) look like the ones in the picture, add a little more lemon juice so that bigger lumps form. It should happen quite quickly within about a minute. If it doesn’t, keep adding lemon juice splash by splash until the curds have separated from the whey.

Curds starting to form

The whey will look a watery greenish/grey colour with the curds floating on top.

Line the sieve/colander with your cloth and put it into the washing up bowl.  Put the bowl into an empty sink. Very carefully pour the hot curds and whey through the colander, empty the bowl and then run some cold water onto the curds to wash the rest of the whey out. Move the curds around with your fingers. Gather the sides of the cloth and lift the curds out of the sieve.

Lift the cloth full of curds away from the liquid

Gently squeeze the ball to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

The cheese is ready to be pressed with a heavy weight

Place the wrapped cheese onto a clean tray, laying the cloth across the cheese and put a heavy weight, such as a saucepan filled with water, on top of it. Leave for around an hour to solidify.

When you unwrap your cheese it will look something like this:

Paneer – ready to use

The finished paneer can be cut into blocks, or crumbled (home made paneer doesn’t grate very well, it’s better to crumble it) depending on what recipe you’re making.

Paneer freezes very well in a sealed container or zip lock bag.