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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.