American Plate - Bite #6: Blueberries

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
In my entry on Pie (and the attendant research post), I noted that "As American as Apple Pie" is a bit of a misleading phrase, since apple pie was popular long before America was a country. If we want to accurately reflect our patriotism through fruit consumption, then your first step should be casually dropping "As American as Blueberry Pie" into your conversations. I'll willingly lead the charge on that one, because I love blueberries.

Blueberries are enjoying a cultural renaissance right now. "Superfood" is kind of a bullshit term, but there's no denying that these berries are bursting with nutrients, and are low in carbohydrates to boot, so they show up in several ingredient lists for a multitude of diets. Modern, health-conscious Americans aren't the only folks to do cartwheels over blueberries, though. Since they're indigenous to the American continent, and happily grow everywhere but the arid desert regions, they've been consumed for as long as people have been here.

Even Native American tribes that weren't big on agriculture found a lot of use for blueberries, gathering them fresh in summer and storing them dried for winter. While chili peppers could be used in the Southwest to flavor several dishes, the Northern tribes didn't have that luxury. Wild blueberries could be eaten as a snack, stirred into corn and bean mixtures, and made into easily portable pemmican bars with seeds, nuts, and buffalo meat/fat.

These days, blueberries mostly stick to fruit bowls or sweeter fare. I must admit I fell into that preconception for this project, as well. Sure, I threw back a handful or two of plain berries. But as you can see in the picture, the rest of them went into topping some ice cream, getting baked into a blueberry buckle, and enlivening some cinnamon-spiced cornmeal pancakes.

And sure, as with most people, I like blueberries in muffins and cupcakes and yogurt and such. But there was a time that blueberries were regularly made into sauces for meat dishes, and people don't really do much of that anymore, which is a pity. I remember having a calf liver dish with blueberry sauce in New York that knocked my socks off. Perhaps once all the Bites have been logged, I can look into re-elevating blueberries to Entree status in my cooking experiments. It'd be nifty if part of the American Plate Project could entail exploring new or forgotten ways of using familiar ingredients, and blueberries would be a fantastic starting point.