When you play chess, it is important that you develop a defensive strategy to avoid the premature loss of pieces. Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) also need to protect themselves. One weapon in their arsenal is the pigment anthocyanin, which is responsible for producing vibrant reds, purples, and blues in leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Anthocyanin functions as an antioxidant. Though oxygen is necessary for life, you can get too much of a good thing. Antioxidants ensure that chemical reactions with oxygen within an organism do not get out of hand.
In contrast to its cousin the blueberry (Vaccinium cyanococcus), which only contains anthocyanin in its skin, the bilberry contains anthocyanin in its skin as well as in the flesh of the fruit. This is why eating and preparing bilberries can lead to blue lips, blue teeth, and blue fingers. For the knitters reading this blog, click here and scroll down to Färben mit Heidelbeeren to see the results of using bilberries to dye wool.
Though medicinal properties are attributed to both blueberries and bilberries, the latter have more, most likely due to this double dosage of anthocyanin. The benefits of bilberry consumption include improved night vision, the inhibition or reversal of macular degeneration, and the stopping of diarrhea.
As they are difficult to cultivate, bilberries must be gathered in the wild. True to the Ericaceae family of which they are a member, the shrubs grow in acidic soils and have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. Their roots can grow one meter deep.
The Riffl, as it is called in Styria and Carinthia, is a kind of wooden comb used to harvest bilberries. I have heard it is prohibited because it removes not only the ripe berries but also the unripe ones as well as branches. The several times that I have gathered Schwarzbeeren, as bilberries are called here, I have picked them by hand.
Despite the colder than normal winter, the markets are now full of the beginning of the bilberry harvest. After perusing Die Prato, I only found two recipes for bilberries, one of which I share with you below.
Pfannkuchen mit Schwarzbeeren
30 g (3 Tbs) flour
30 ml (3 Tbs) heavy cream
100 g bilberries
butter for frying
Beat the eggs until uniform. Add the cream and flour and mix well.
In a pan, melt the butter. Add a quarter of the batter and spread so it is even. Sprinkle bilberries on top of the batter. Fold the batter once to form a semi-circle as if you were making an omelette. Fry until both sides are brown. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
I couldn’t resist tweaking the recipe and tailoring it to my individual taste. Here I used buckwheat flour and topped it with fresh bilberries, a dusting of cinnamon, and dollops of Topfen.