Bilberry is one of the popular Nordic summer berries.
The bilberry plant is very much part of the Nordic environment, they can grow in high acidic poor soils as low growing shrub, (10-50cm) they are found in the temperate and Northern sub-arctic areas. Bilberry plants is a deciduous shrub, the green foliage of the plant changes color to red and pink once the berries have become ripe.
Bilberry plant drop their leaves in the late autumn-winter.
The bilberry flowers from May to July, and the berries are usually ripe from July up to October. The berry season varies from year to year, there are many variables to consider. Mainly depend on the climatic conditions: the pollinators, as well as the early summer frosts. lack of pollinators will produce a poor berry season. Also a late frost during the flowering season can knock out the the berry crop of the summer. The flowers are bell shaped and pink in color, they are very sensitive to a frost bite. Pollination carried out mainly bees and insects, the bilberry can also self-pollinate.
How to prepare the bilberry harvest.
Bilberry can be enjoyed many ways, depending on where you live and how you obtain the berries. In some temperate areas of Europe the only way to safely enjoy them would be to use them in cooking; as a filling for a bilberry pie, cooked jam, and for cooking the berries for juice extraction. The environment needs to be a clean environment if the berries are enjoyed fresh from the shrub. The Nordic sub-arctic areas are such clean areas where the berries have grown in a clean environment. The potential threat is from diseases in wild animals, it may be foxes or other mammals or marsupials that carry a disease and spread it over the ground cover of the forest with plants and shrubs. This is not a known problem in the Nordic region. Of course the summer rains wash the berries every so often, but it is always sensible to rinse the berries being harvested before storing them in the freezer.
See Nordic Berry pictures here. Nordic Summer Forest.
How to enjoy the bilberry flavor and nutrition.
I like to go berry picking after a summer rain storm or even when there is light rain falling, it makes the forest so much more fresh, it is cooler with fresh clean berries for the picking. Also after the rain there are lots of natural plant and flower scents, with a great natural light tones for photography. Bilberries in a clean environment can be enjoyed fresh from the shrub, they are also great for the breakfast table with cold milk and cereal, traditionally the bilberries were enjoyed during the summer months as a refreshing desert with only using the berries and fresh milk. Most middle age to elder people in the Nordic region do recall their childhood memories of summers with having enjoyed lots of “Bilberry milk” desserts.
The bilberry pie is equivalent to an apple pie in some other region of the world. They do also make apple pie in the Nordic region but bilberry pie has been more popular by tradition. It can be a sweet dough base with a bilberry filling on top, baked in an oven until the dough in the base is baked through. The dough recipe varies from a sweet dough to a non sugar dough base. Some people like it with a pie pastry that has no sugar included, it could also be so because of potential diabetes sufferers.
Juicing berries for winter in the Nordic region is very popular by tradition.
Juicing of many types of berries is done during the summer as the berries ripen, they can be made into a single flavor juice or a mixed berry juice. The berries are put into a large pot with sugar and heated until it comes to the boil, this process will melt the sugar and release more juice from the berry pulp. The pot is taken off the heat and allow to cool down some. Then the hot juice is poured through a stainer to catch the skin of the berries. Depending how fine the sieve is the seeds of the berries may go through or get left behind. Most of the essential nutrients of the bilberries are in the seeds, but by consuming them alone will not release the compounds, the seeds should be crushed so that the nutrients are released while consuming them. Think of it this way, when a plant flowers are pollinated and grows berries or fruit, the fruit are attractive to lure birds, mammals and humans to eat them, why? so that they would propagate else where. The berries and fruit are consumed, the flesh and juice is consumed and absorbed in the stomach, but the seeds pass on through and continue on in another cycle of life at another location. The seeds are are protected from the stomach acids by design, they survive it and keep intact ready to start their own life story once they are out in the soil of the natural world.
See pictures of Bilberries. Summer Berry Season 2013.