It was a warm day in May a long time ago when I discovered the Bilberry, the European cousin to the North American Blueberry, for the first time.
I vividly remember the road we walked leading through a forest in Austria. My mother stopped to show me the little bushes with small, green leaves and between them the dark blue berries. She encouraged me to taste these little berries and when I did I discovered sweetness combined with tartness that exploded all over my mouth. It was a flavor I had not ever tasted before. At that moment, my thirst at that moment was quenched and the heat of the road forgotten. A feeling of wanting to continue this magical adventure lead me to keep picking more and more of these wonderful little treasures. We picked a basket full for later once we satisfied our desire to eat until we could eat no more.
The Bilberry and the Blueberry are very similar and are only distinguished by their flowers and the way they grow on the bushes. The berry itself looks almost identical with its dark blue, perfectly round berry.
The Blueberry bush can be over six feet tall, and the berries grow in grape-like clusters.
Here is a picture of a blueberry bush
where the berries are not yet ripe.
…and the Bilberry or Heidelbeere grows
singly on the branches…
In some of the European countries these and other berries are picked by hikers in woods throughout the spring, summer and fall months. One feels especially connected with the earth upon discovering a patch of wild edible berries and enjoying nature’s table in its perfect setting. I have had the opportunity to experience such moments several times in my adult life and always remember my first Bilberry, or Heidelbeere, in that Austrian forest when I was only seven.
There are many berries which we use in cooking and baking to enhance flavors or add a special touch to a meal. I particularly like to make jams from berries I pick or I freeze them to use later when they are no longer in season. My favorite berries are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and currants that can enhance many savory dishes and especially cakes and desserts.
Where I live the berries are available at local farmers markets or one can gather friends and children and have a weekend event by going to nearby farms or orchards to pick these special treats. I love watching the children and their excitement when their baskets are full and their faces are smudged with the juice of the fruit they have picked….
There is no greater joy than to pick a basket full of berries……..or fruit!
The very versatile
My Almond Cake can be made with any kind of berry it is also very delicious with apricots, peaches or plums. This recipe is made with plums. It is a very moist, rich cake and is wonderful just freshly baked. It will keep up to three days at room temperature when covered lightly with a piece of wax paper, however, in my house it does not keep but a day…..
1 cup minus 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter
1 cup flour
7 ounces Almond Paste – do not use marzipan – it has to be PASTE
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Orange flavoring
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups fresh berries
Pre-heat the oven to 350 F
Prepare two 9-inch tart pans by greasing them with a vegetable fat and dusting generously with flour. Do not use butter or margarine, they contain too much water. I like to cut a round of parchment paper for the bottom of the pans. Then I grease and dust only the sides of the baking pan.
In an electric mixer combine the almond paste, the butter and the sugar and beat on low speed turning to medium speed after a couple of minutes. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the flavorings and the 5 eggs – one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients until it becomes a smooth.
Dust the fruit with flour to coat before folding it into the dough using a spatula until completely incorporated.
Pour one half of the dough into each tart pan and bake for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the cake is slightly browned and when testing with a toothpick it comes out clean.
If you do an Apple cake it is good to saute the apple slices in a little butter to soften them, because the baking time is not long enough to cook the apples completely.
The Apple Almond Cake!
The Blueberry Almond Cake!
I also made this cake with strawberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots and plums….. The plum cake was actually my favorite, but then I am partial to plums…..I have always loved…. Zwetschken!
Plum Almond Cake!
What ever your choice may be, hopefully you will be able to pick your own fruit for this wonderful and versatile
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