Archive for the ‘Bilberries’ Category

My first post included buckwheat but did not provide an introduction to one of my totem plants, which I am cultivating on my balcony this year. Fagopyrum esculentum (syn. Fagopyrum sagittatum) originated in Nepal. It then spread east to China, where it is considered to be a yang-promoting food in traditional Chinese medicine that warms the body, and Japan, where it is used to make luck-bringing soba noodles.

The Mongols brought it with them to the European part of Russia, after which buckwheat became a staple in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish cuisine. Its range continued to expand westward. The Dutch planted it in their colonies in North America, where it became the flour of choice for pancakes, or flapjacks. I started making pancakes with buckwheat flour when I was in college, gobbling them down with maple syrup on many a weekend.

Buckwheat grows quickly, bearing fruit within three months. The stem starts out green and then turns red. A five-petalled flower yields a triangular achene resembling a beech nut, which when ground can be used for flour. The English word buckwheat comes from the Dutch word boecweite, literally beech wheat, and the standard German word Buchweizen has the same meaning. Before it can be used as a comestible, the achene must be hulled, after which it has the status of a groat. The dried hulls can be used to fill pillows.

The dried leaves contain rutin, which strengthens the capillaries, improving circulation and ameliorating varicose veins. Another active ingredient is trytophan, an amino acid which promotes sleep and reduces nervousness.

Besides being good for you, buckwheat is also good for the earth. As green manure, it delivers phosphorus to depleted soils, thriving in sandy and acidic soil. No fertilizer is necessary. In fact, buckwheat plants will not produce fruit if they are fertilized.

As a fan of buckwheat, I find myself in the company of the likes of Soren Kierkegaard, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps it is no coincidence that I live in the buckwheat belt of Europe. Sterz, porridge made of buckwheat flour, is common on both sides of the Austrian-Slovene border in Styria (Steiermark/Štajerska). South in Slovenia there are buckwheat and cheese dumplings called štruklji. Not far away in South Tirol you can feast on pizzocheri. As summer continues to wane and winter approaches, there will be more recipes with buckwheat.

At the moment, however, fresh fruit is still abundant. Bilberry season continues, and honey is plentiful too. So it is time for…

Bilberry Buckwheat Honeycake

90 g (1/3 cup) honey

3 eggs

120 g (1 cup) flour

30 g (1/3 cup) ground almonds

1 ts baking powder

a pinch of salt

125 g melted butter

3 Tbs milk or cream

250 g (2 cups) bilberries or blueberries

In a large bowl, beat the honey and eggs together.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the honey-egg mixture. Pour in the butter and milk. Finally, add the bilberries.

Bake 30-40 minutes at 180°C (350°F).

Recommended reading: “A World of Buckwheat” in Goldstein, Darra. The Winter Vegetarian.


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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

3 eggs

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.

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