Maclaine of Lochbuie Clan Plant – the Blaeberry
Blaeberry or bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus): from Gaelic ‘blae’ meaning livid or bluish; not to be confused with North American vaccinium cyanococcus blueberries.
Blaeberry, a small-branched shrub, is a key component of the Caledonian Forest ground flora and an important food source for both humans and a wide range of wildlife. It grows abundantly in mountainous areas of the Scottish highlands, particularly in the north and west. On moors and heaths, blaeberry typically occurs under heather. Its small, blue-black berries, when quite ripe (August to end September), are covered with a delicate grey bloom. True blaeberries are dark throughout with a distinctive, winey taste.
Modern research confirms the anthocyanins in blaeberries assist improved night vision and enhance eye health. The blaeberry received some notoriety during WWII when it was given to British Air Force pilots who flew night missions. Perhaps Lochbuie warriors “knew” that consumption of blaeberry fruit would give them an advantage over their enemies during night-led raids.
These old Highland recipes have been slightly modified for today’s kitchens.
2 kg (10 cups) blaeberries
4.5 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)
4 strips orange peel, each about 7cm x 1 cm
1 Cinnamon stick – or 2.5ml (1/2 tspn) cinnamon
1 Vanilla pod – or 5ml (1 tspn) Vanilla Essence
250ml (1 cup) apple juice—or water Pinch of salt
Combine the blaeberries, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil then cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, for 20-30 minutes or until thick. Remove from the heat. Discard the orange peel, cinnamon stick and vanilla pod. Spoon the jam into the sterilised jars, cover and cool.
To make apple juice, cover three apples (or windfalls and peelings) with 500ml water, stew down, then strain the juice through thick muslin.
350g (1.5 cups) blaeberries
60g (4 tablsp) sugar
Line a 20cm (8”) pie tin lined with sweet shortcrust pastry. Mix the blaeberries (or a mixture of blaerries and coursely grated apple) and sugar and place into the tin. Top with shortcrust pastry, and bake for 25 minutes at 180°C (350°F). Serve it warm or cold with whipped cream.
Alternative 1: Substitute the piecrust with a mixture of 4 egg yolks blended with 500ml thickened cream, then pour over the fruit Arrange 5-6 fresh bay leaves on top. Bake for 25 minutes at 180°C (350°F) , or until the tart topping is set but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Eat warm or at room temperature.