Sunday, 16 May 2010

A walk in the woods - bilberry, bleaberry, blaeberry, etc

We headed out for a stomp around the lake this afternoon, I think we were both in need of stretching our legs after a morning at the computer.

P5050123Although it was slightly overcast, it didn’t dampen the wonderful colour springing forth from every nook and cranny. It may have felt like an age for spring to arrive – but it’s now here with a vengeance. Everything is tinged green.

The one find that made my heart leap, was the little red bleaberries forming. They won’t be ripe until July/August, but it’s good to see they are on their way…

P5050119 I’ve never quite worked out what they are actually called locally. I thought they were called blaeberries, but I’ve been told that blae is a Scottish term. I didn't like to say that ‘blae’ commonly occurs in places names around here!

Anyway, I digress. Bilberry is apparently too generic. The name I should apparently be using is: bleaberry.

Whatever they are called, they are wonderful to eat and pick either as a refreshing snack while walking, or to pick basketfuls for taking home.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Maids of honour

P4210109It feels like spring has taken a long time to arrive in Cumbria this year. With May Day last weekend it was time to cut some blossoming branches, fill a large le Parfait jar with water and pop the branches in, bringing a little bit of spring in to the house.

With spring arriving again it feels like its the right time to start-up Springtime again. And what better way than with a traditional May Day recipe.

Maids of honour are often associated with stories of Tudor courts, Henry VIII and of course, maids. I do not doubt that these stories may be based on grains of truth, but similar versions of this recipe were common during medieval and post-medieval times. The reason being that maids of honour are a seasonal, springtime recipe often associated with May Day. But why May Day? The obvious link is the term ‘maids’ being associated with young women and May Queens, etc. But looking at the actual recipe, the tart makes the most of new sweet milk from cows that had recently been let-out to pasture, giving another reason for their popularity on May Day.

May would have been a lean time of the year in terms of fresh fruit for cakes and puddings. Although one ingredient which was plentiful, and at its best, was milk. Many sweet  dishes were made from milk or curd cheese at this time of year in the past, so it is no surprise to find that the filling of a maid of honour is mainly curd cheese and jam (or lemon curd from fresh eggs). The combination of cheese when it’s at its best and jam from the store cupboard is not only wonderful, but also firmly rooted in the agricultural calendar of the past.

Recipemaid of honour (NTE)


  • 1/4 pack of puff pastry
  • 120gr cottage or curd cheese
  • 20gr caster sugar
  • zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 15gr ground almonds
  • 1 medium egg
  • a little bit of jam or lemon curd (I’ve used homemade lemon curd, blackcurrant jam and apricot jam –they all taste good!).


  1. Take your pastry out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  3. In a bowl mix the cheese, sugar, zest, almonds and egg. Don’t worry about the lumps if you use cottage cheese, this melt when the tray goes in the oven.
  4. Roll out the pastry, then using a cutter, cut out circles about 9cm. Don’t twist the cutter, just press down sharply.
  5. Put the rounds in to the holes of a muffin tin.
  6. Put barely half of teaspoon of jam or curd into the base of the case, followed by the cheese mixture. Do not over fill the cases.
  7. Put in the oven for about 20 mins.