Friday, July 11, 2008

Blueberry Heights

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!

Robert Frost

Mark your calendar, July is National Blueberry Month! Before we begin today's post, I would like to share just a small portion of a story I discovered in American Cookery Magazine; June/July 1918. The title of the article is Blueberry Heights by Mary L. Gordon.
Sometime in July, after the excitement of the Fourth has passed, you will meet, on our country roads, teams of various description, suggesting, by sundry baskets, pails, and bags of hay, a mobilization of some sort, industrial or pleasure seeking. A team, it should be explained, means in New England anything from a 'one-horse buggy to a four-in-hand, and in this connection will, more often than not, consist of one horse and a two-seated surrey, or beach wagon...Passing these leisurely travelers with friendly nods and greeting, come automobiles frequently "manned" entirely by women, but bound apparently on similar errands, or possibly pursuing the same business on more extended lines. For our remotest wilds are no longer safe from the ubiquitous motor car that brings distant mountain summits within the limit of a day's excursion. However diverse their points of destination, the object of all these parties is the same. They are going blueberrying.

Picking wild blueberries is a delightful experience. Blueberries are native to North America. As a matter of fact, North America is the world's leading blueberry producer. The blueberry harvest runs from mid-April through early October. Blueberry season reaches its peak harvest time in July which is also known as National Blueberry Month. National Blueberry Month was proclaimed by the Secretary of of Agriculture in July 1999.
There appears to be much confusion about the difference between blueberries and huckleberries since the words are used interchangeably. Generally speaking, the lighter berries are called blueberries while the darker, blackish ones are called huckleberries. Outside of New England, they are often lumped together as huckleberries. Another physical difference lies in the seeds. Blueberries have tiny, unnoticeable seeds whereas huckleberries have ten hard seed like "nutlets." Huckleberries are wild but blueberries are also cultivated for commercial use.

There are approximately 30 different species of blueberries with different ones growing throughout various regions. For example, the Highbush variety can be found throughout the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, the Lowbush variety throughout the Northeast and Eastern Canada, and the Evergreen variety throughout states in the Pacific Northwest...While blueberries played an important role in North American Indian food culture, being an ingredient in pemmican, a traditional dish composed of the fruit and dried meat, they were not consumed in great amounts by the colonists until the mid-19th century. This seems to be related to the fact that people did not appreciate their tart flavor, and only when sugar became more widely available as a sweetener at this time, did they become more popular...Blueberries were not cultivated until the beginning of the 20th century, becoming commercially available in 1916. Cultivation of blueberries was spearheaded by a botanist at the United States Department of Agriculture who pioneered research into blueberry production. His work was forwarded by Elizabeth White, whose family established the first commercial blueberry fields. source
There's much ado about the nutritional value of blueberries which I find rather fascinating. The fact that they have recently been labeled "superfruits" is rather amusing to me since there is numerous documentation attesting to their vast nutritional "powers" through the ages. Since there is so much information available online, I'd rather explore blueberries as an old Native American food. I did leave some resources below. The story of cultivated blueberries in the United States begins with the southern New Jersey village of Whitesbog and a woman by the name of Elizabeth Coleman White.
She grew up on her father's cranberry farm in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and developed her interest in commercial agriculture as a girl. In 1911, White became interested in blueberry propagation and, using the resources of her family farm in Whitesbog, collaborated with Federick Coville to develop a commercial blueberry from wild varieties, a goal that was achieved in 1916.

Native American Blueberries

Wild Blueberries were a major food supply for many Native American tribes for centuries before the colonists arrived. They used the tiny blue berries, both fresh and dried, for their flavor, their nutrition and their healing qualities. They also sun dried them in large amounts which offered a valuable food source used in stews, soups, cooked with ground corn and sweetened with maple syrup or honey, and made into a type of jerky with deer meat, which helped many survive the long, cold winters. The blossom end or calyx of each berry forms the shape of a perfect five pointed star. Native Americans called it the 'star berry', and the elders of the tribe often told stories of how the Great Spirit brought the 'star berries' so that the children could relieve their hunger during a famine. Back to our story from American Cookery.
...the blueberry is a pioneer, loving the wild, free places on earth, bleak hillsides, lonely mountain tops, cold bogs and swampy levels, rocky pastures, clearings, burned districts of the plain. Wherever fire and the axe have laid waste, there you will find the blueberry following, as the Red Cross follows the smoke of the battle, laboring with sweet fern, and scrub oak to redeem the land until maple and oak, and birch and poplar, can replace the pines that went up in smoke. It is the natural agent of reclamation; a repairer of the breach; a binder up of wounds; spreading over the fields of ruin a delicate mantle of protection, veiling their desolation from sight, healing burns and bruises, dressing battle scars with aseptic covering. At the same time, from those very scars, the shrub itself draws new vigor, putting forth leaf and blossom and fruit in fresh luxuriance. For three seasons after a fire one usually finds an abundant crop of berries, provided frosts have not killed the blossoms...
A favorite dish of the Native Americans during colonial times was Sautauthig (pronounced saw'-taw-teeg), a simple pudding made with dried, crushed blueberries, dried, cracked corn (or samp), and water. It was a type of blueberry cornmeal mush. The Pilgrims loved Sautauthig and many historians believe that it was part of the first Thanksgiving feast.
Native Americans have always used many species of berry. The Hopi called blueberries 'moqui' a term which meant spirits of the ancestors. Many tribes used dried berries to make puddings or smoked them to preserve them for use in the months of cold and scarcity. Pemmican was a combination of dried buffalo meat, fat and wild berries which the Native Americans used to barter with the fur trading companies. Explorers Lewis and Clark shared a meal of meat pounded with blueberries with Native Americans while in the Northwest Territory. Pemmican was a brilliant source of nutrition - protein from the meat, vitamins from the berries, and calories (energy) from the fat. source

Blueberry Recipes

Although there are recipes available online for Sautauthig, I thought I would also include a recipe found in The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith. He calls his recipe Indian Blueberry Pudding.

Indian Blueberry Pudding
1 lb. blueberries fresh or frozen
4 cups water
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar or honey to taste
Boil the berries in the water. Drain the juice and set aside. Mash the berries and mix with flour. Combine the sugar or honey with the juice and add to the berry/flour mix. Stir well. If lumps are present add a little more water and continue to stir. Bring to simmer and stir constantly until thick. check for sweetness. Cool and Serve.
Many of the recipes appearing in the pictured book are abundantly available online. I do want to mention one recipe which I know to be quite refreshing which is not included in the booklet. In Sweden, chilled blueberry soup is a popular summer treat that's equally welcome as an appetizer or dessert. Try this recipe for Blueberry Mango Soup from Executive Chef/ Co-Owner Marcus Samuelsson, Aquavit, New York City. I also found a recipe for Norwegian Blueberry Soup here. I also found a recipe for Blueberry Soup with Yogurt which can be made in a blender. Wouldn't it make a wonderful way to start a day? Here it is from The Natural Healing Cookbook (1981; Rodale Press) This recipe makes 4 servings but I'm sure you could make less or more.
Mix 2 cups blueberries, 1/4 cup orange juice, dash of allspice and nutmeg in a blender on low speed. Chill in refrigerator. (maybe do this the night before) To serve, ladle soup into individual blowls and spoon 1/2 cup yogurt into the center of each. Garnish with half a slice of fresh orange.
Another recipe that I wanted to include is for Blueberry Pudding Cake. Although there are quite a few recipes for Blueberry Pudding Cake from one using a pressure cooker to one called Florentine Manor Blueberry Pudding Cake, the one I want to include is from the Maine Jubilee Cookbook (1970) can you tell I'm in PA with all my books:) First because it is a Maine recipe and second because the recipe in this book doesn't contain eggs. Now, almost every recipe I saw online contained at least one egg, perhaps, this is a type, (I don't think so) or perhaps, it just doesn't need an egg. a few of the other recipes I came across had additional spices and most had lemon juice. This one does not.

Blueberry Pudding Cake
2 cups blueberries
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3 tbs. shortening, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 tbs. cornstarch
1 cup boiling water
Put 2 cups blueberries in the bottom of an 8x8 cake tin. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, shortening, 3/4 cup sugar and milk together and spread over berries. Now mix the 1 cup sugar and cornstarch together and sprinkle over batter in pan. Pour the cup of boiling water over this. Bake at about 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Other fruits such as rhubarb, raspberries, or sliced apples can be deliciously substituted for blueberries. Submitted by Mrs. James McGrath, East Waterboro, Maine
Who says the kids have to go to one of those expensive theme parks this summer. Why shouldn't the whole family have an earthly experience right in their own back yards. I think a great way to celebrate National Blueberry Month would be to go blueberrying or to visit a local blueberry festival or fair. The east coast is certainly filled with its share of festivals and fairs and it isn't to late to celebrate Blueberry Season. I've added a few blueberry festival recipes below. Most of them link to a blueberry festival that is has not passed yet as of this post. I also found a quick and easy  healthy cookie recipe baked by Anna over at Cookie Madness which uses dried blueberries. Bake some up and go blueberrying real soon.
  • 1. Blueberrying (online memory)
  • 2. July is National Blueberry Month
  • 3. It's Blueberry Time Again!
  • 4. Blueberries Facts & Triva @ Food Reference.com
  • 5. Blueberries: Nutrition, Facts, Growth, History
  • 6. Blueberries: A Vital Part of a Healthy Diet
  • Recipes
  • 1. Blueberry Pudding Cake @ Taste of Home
  • 2. How to Make Homemade Blueberry Jelly
  • 3. Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake
  • 4. Blueberry Festival Recipes
  • 5. Michigan Blueberry Festival Winning Recipes (PDF)
  • 6. Bake-Off :: Blueberry Recipes
  • 7. Montrose Blueberry Festival Recipes
  • 8. Virginia Blueberry Festival Recipes
  • 9. Pressure Cooker Blueberry Pudding Cake Recipe
  • 10. Florentine Manor Blueberry Pudding
  • 11.Blueberry-Walnut Pesto


  1. Yummm.I would like to try that blueberry soup!Fruit soups are way more popular in Europe.

  2. Glamah, you should give it a try. It really is surprisingly refreshing.

  3. What a great collection of information. I love blueberries, and always like to make a blueberry crisp in the summer. Guess this is the month!

  4. Hey Mom,
    I was reading about blueberries and wondering if there was going to be a mention of huckleberries and there it was. Lucky as I am, in Idaho we have an abundance of huckleberries and we aren't so lucky as to as many blueberries. I'm hoping that since I am going huckleberry picking this year that some of these wonderful blueberry recipes are interchangeable. I look forward to finding out. Thanks

  5. Hi Louise,

    I did not know July is Blueberry month. I enjoied reading all the great information in this post. I would like to try the pudding recipe you included. Thanks!

  6. Hi T.W.
    Get crisping they are at their peak. I hope you are going to share the recipe on your blog so I can link it.

    Hey Daughter!
    I was thinking of Noah when I got to the huckleberry part. I'm sure the recipes are interchangeable, less the seeds of course.

    Hi Manuela,
    Thanks for visiting.

    Oh how I was hoping someone would bake the Blueberry Pudding Cake. Please let me know when you bake it I will link it here.


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none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise