What is this hidden treat? Bilberrying. Foraging and finding food for free is always good but bilberrying seems particularly rewarding. It might be because I associate it with so many lovely childhood days when our extended family would venture on to a windy hillside, competitively picking the tiny berries and covering our hands in purple dye.
My love of them could also be because they're rarely to be found for sale anywhere so they're extra special and hard to come by. They taste similar to blueberries but slightly tarter and the flavour seems much more intense.
Few people seem to bother picking bilberries. It's perhaps because they're quite small. The plants tend to be low so it can be quite a back-breaking job, or maybe people just don't know where to find the berries? Even getting a few bilberries is so rewarding - a few go a long way to enhancing a desert or breakfast.
Bilberries grow on low bushes on moorland or the fringes of woodland, often intermixed with heather. At first glance the bush may seem to be empty of berries but gently move aside their springy stalks and you should be able to spot the berries in mid August. I think bilberries have some kind of magic powers, only accessible to those who have true patience and determination to find them, because once you've spotted a couple you'll suddenly see many more on a bush where previously there were none! They hide just under the leaves so aren't as obvious as blackberries in a high hedge.
Once you've found a really productive bush you'll feel a real conflict - do you exclaim in wonder and show someone else, or silently and persistently pick them all for yourself? Their other special power is their ability to stain your fingers with red juice even though the berries look so blue.
Bilberries are very nutritious, containing plenty of vitamin C and E, as well as being three times richer in anthocyanin compounds (with many health claims) than cultivated blueberries. One of the best ice creams I've ever eaten was a bilberry one from Meadow Dale in Nidderdale.