Thursday 21 September 2023

Where have all the bilberries gone?


It was on a summer holiday to Alsace this year, that I came across ‘Tarte aux Myrtilles’ featuring on menus and was tempted to try this most attractive of desserts. Well, why not? As well as growing in the Vosges mountains, bilberries are found in the Savoie region of the French Alps and other areas of France. My friends with relatives in Finland also tell me that bilberries are a popular dessert there too. Sweden also boasts the cultivation of bilberries. Although I remember picking bilberries as a child, sadly they seem quite difficult to find in the UK nowadays. Local knowledge of places to pick them is often kept secret to protect this highly prized fruit.

Bilberries are often confused with blueberries but the latter are a different plant genus altogether. Bilberries are quite small, a little tart in flavour and a much darker blue in colour. They can leave a trace of blue on your lips, so we often got found out if we’d eaten too many when picking them!

If you are fortunate enough to find any bilberries, here’s a Franch family recipe to make your mouth water (or turn blue!).

Tarte aux Myrtilles

What you need


200g flour (plain)

100g butter (cut into small pieces)

75g caster sugar

1-2 tbsps milk (or water)

Dried beans for the pastry


400g bilberries

50g granulated sugar

50g ground almonds

30g flour

50g caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsps crème fraiche

Icing sugar to decorate

How to bake

Sift the flour and sugar together in a bowl and add the butter. Mix until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk (or water) and mix into a dough. Wrap and place in a cool place (fridge) for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the bilberries and granulated sugar in a pan on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the bilberries and remove from the pan. Continue to cook the juice until it has thickened. Then place the bilberries back in the pan and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry and place in a 22 cm tarte tin or dish.  Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Bake blind for 15 minutes (i.e. prick the base, cover with greaseproof paper and dried beans). Remove the greaseproof paper and dried beans and allow to cool.

While the pastry is baking, mix together the ground almonds, flour and 25g of the caster sugar. Spread this over the base of the tarte and then add the bilberry mixture on top. Whisk the eggs, crème fraiche and remaining caster sugar and pour over the bilberry mixture. Place in the oven for 20 minutes until it is set or firm to the touch. Allow to cool and sprinkle a little icing sugar on top before serving.

Meryl says : If you can’t find any bilberries or don’t want to use blueberries as an alternative, then go blackberrying instead. Blackberries are in abundance in the hedgerows just now so there’s always Apple and Blackberry Pie to enjoy. 

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