You have to watch out for the snails. Tiny little things, micro snails really, that get caught up with the berries when you go bilberrying. If you’re planning a pie or some bilberry jam the last thing you want is an unexpected crunch between your teeth.
Funny thing is, when I went bilberry picking last summer I didn’t notice a single snail but then I didn’t look for them. On an earlier expedition this month my bilberry comb seemed to scrape up lots of them along with the berries, leaves and twigs. So now I pick the berries over very carefully indeed and leave them in a bowl, giving any snail time to crawl to the surface. I reckon if it’s survived so far I’m not going to flush it down the sink so take it gently outside.
This last time I had 575g of berries left after I’d had some with my breakfast cereal and porridge so I decided it was quickest and easiest to make some jam. If you google ‘bilberry’ you invariably get the story that bilberries were supposed to help RAF pilots’ vision in World War Two. I reckon this comes from the same stable as the myth about the RAF and carrots but, who knows?
Marguerite Patten, in her jam makers’ ‘bible’ Jams, Preserves & Chutneys surprisingly doesn’t mention bilberries at all. But she does blueberries, which are a larger, sweeter form of the fruit. If you google ‘bilberry pectin content’ you will be told it is on the low side. Marguerite, however, says it is high and her recipes contain no lemon for added pectin. As the bilberry is a tarter fruit I should imagine its pectin content is higher. What she says is good enough for me, although I do like to add a little lemon to most jams just to highlight flavours. I also decided to add a teaspoon of vanilla essence for a change this time.
The rule of thumb is the same weight of sugar as fruit but I decided to make it a little fruitier by cutting back on the sugar to 500g. I just added a tablespoon of water to the berries to start them off and crushed them only lightly to release the juices. Some recipes will have you producing a paste-like jam. Then I stirred in the sugar, the juice of half a lemon and the vanilla. I had a set, using the saucer test, in seven minutes.
I like a very light set. Here’s a tip. When you’ve taken your plate out of the freezer and put a blob of jam on it put it in the fridge (not freezer!) for a good five minutes before applying the wrinkle test. If you don’t give it a good time to set you may run the risk of cooking on when you don’t need to and it becomes a stiff paste.
I got four jars of varying sizes and the jam has the sweet-sharp qualities of the raw fruit plus a little vanillary background. I like it. And so far I’ve not crunched . . .