Like many creatures of minimal physical stature, blueberries are hardy and nutritionally powerful perennials that have served the health and gastronomic needs of North Americans for some 13,000 years. Something to ponder as we celebrate July 2013 as National Blueberry Month.
Native Americans enjoyed blueberries year round; they called the berries “star berries” because of the five-pointed star (calyx) formed by the blossom. Native people carefully dried the summer harvest and added dried berries to stews, soups and a baked pudding they called Sautauthig, a mix of corn meal, water and blueberries; they used blueberries for medicinal purposes and powdered the blueberries to use as a meat preservative. Legend has it that they shared the secret power of blueberries to help early settlers survive the harsh winters. Some hold that the native delicacy Sautauthig was on the menu for the First Thanksgiving.
Today’s hardy and ubiquitous blueberry crop is the result of research of two intrepid researchers, Elizabeth White, daughter of a New Jersey farmer, and Dr. Frederick Coville. The team produced the first commercial crop of blueberries in Whitesbog, New Jersey in 1916.
For today’s shopper blueberries rank second only to strawberries in popularity. The humble fruit is also repeatedly ranked in the US. Diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.
Minnesotans have a special fondness for and relationship with blueberries. Though at one time the climate hampered production, research, particularly through Extension Service, has improved the hardiness to the point where commercial production of blueberries is viable. Of particular note is the fact that the plant’s short stature works as an advantage.
In 1988, the State Legislature, responding to the initiative of third graders in Carlton, MN, designated the Blueberry Muffin as the State Muffin. The official recipe for the State Muffin is posted here: http://mn.gov/portal/about-minnesota/state-symbols/blueberry-muffin-recipe.jsp
July is the month for blueberry picking in Northern Minnesota. There’s berry picking on the Gunflint Trail and berry gathering is permitted in the BWCA , Quetico Park and the Superior National Forest.
Lake George, near Park Rapids, sports a world class Blueberry Festival July 26-28, The three-day event features a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry ball, and a blueberry square dance. There is an educational booth with answers to all you ever wanted to know about blueberries. If that’s not enough there’s a pie sale, a pig roast, and the Firemen’s Bean Feed, along with a quilt show, an arts and crafts show, a flea market and a host of kids’ activities. On Sunday there is an outdoor Gospel concert and a parade. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
At Whiteside Park in Ely the 33rd Annual Blueberry Art Festival will take place the same weekend, July 26-28. There will be 300 exhibitors of original art and handcrafts with a rich array of ethnic foods and children’s events throughout the Festival. There will also be a stage show each evening. Contact email@example.com.
And take time to read Blueberries for Sal to a special child. Even if it’s set in Maine it has a Minnesota-like feel that creates the right atmosphere for celebrating National Blueberry Month.