Revered Internationally, Eaten Enthusiastically
The blueberry was gathered and used by Native Americans for centuries before colonists arrived from Europe. They taught the pilgrims to use blueberries in numerous ways including drying then grinding them into a powder which was subsequently combined with cornmeal, honey and water to make a pudding. They were also taught to use this powder as a spice rub to season meat which provided an excellent means of preservation for the lean winter months. I bet this is why Blueberry Lime Jam tastes so good as a glaze over a roast! (Get the recipe in my cookbook, Canning Full Circle.)
Did you know, blueberries were not only used for culinary purposes but medicinally as a relaxant during childbirth and as a tonic to purify the blood.
Blueberries are revered on an international level:
- The common name, blueberry, comes from an old Scandinavian word, blaeberry. They were eaten raw with cream and made into jam, jellies and tarts.
- Off the west coast of mainland Scotland in the Hebrides, the leaves of blueberries are used for tea.
- The berries were used as part of traditional celebrations in Ireland. There was a special holiday festival known as Bilberry Sunday or Blaeberry Sunday, which was the closest Sunday to August 1st. This was associated with a festival called Lughrasa in honor of the Celtic god of agriculture. This festival marks the beginning of the harvest and was originally based on a pagan celebration, which later served as the basis for Lammas or Loaf-Mass in England. During the festival the berries were picked in special rush baskets.
- In England the name hurtleberry was used for blueberries until 1670. Later these were called bilberries.
- In Scotland the berries were called blueberries and were traditionally made into jam. The jam was introduced to the court of King James V by French cooks. The jam was used for scones and bannocks.
- In Russia, blueberries were dried and used for food as well as for various medicinal purposes.
There are many health benefits to eating blueberries. For starters, blueberries are low in fat with just 80 calories per cup. Research suggests the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of a blueberry can play an important role in helping to lessen the inflammatory process associated with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-related cognitive decline.
Blueberries are high in Vitamin C which promote a healthy immune system and manganese which plays an important role in bone development. They’re also a good source of dietary fiber which contributes to heart health, helping to keep cholesterol in check.
How to buy.
Look for plump, firm berries with a uniform, dusky-blue color. The silvery film which covers a blueberry is called bloom. Bloom is a sign of freshness and functions as natural protection for the berry. Shake the container gently: Berries should rattle freely, rather than stick together.
How to store.
When you get the blueberries home, discard any smashed, moldy, or shriveled ones, and don’t rinse the berries until you’re ready to use them. Store unwashed blueberries in the refrigerator covered and they will last almost a week longer than other berries.
Fun Fact: Over 200 million pounds of blueberries are grown every year in North America. Michigan and New Jersey produce 66% of all the blueberries in the United States, followed by North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.