Blueberries for…all?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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These are modern high-bush blueberries. The fruit are still green; the photo was taken in Atlanta in early May.

You may be hearing more about BlackBerries (the smartphones) these days, but blueberries are worth a Ponder. Blueberries are in the news because they have lots of anthocyanins and other wonderful chemicals that are extremely beneficial nutrients in the human diet.

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are native to North America. Blueberries were used by Native Americans to make pemmican. Pemmican is a dried meat-fat mixture that was a nutritious storable foodstuff. Sometimes the meat was pounded together with fruits, like blueberries, choke cherries, or currants, which made a mixture vaguely like a modern fruit leather.

Wild blueberry bushes in Georgia probably commonly grew in the forest subcanopy and understory. Blueberries have been identified by ethnobotanists in floral remains from archaeological sites across eastern North America.

Blueberries are an important modern commercial crop in Georgia, especially in the southeastern part of the state. In 2005, Georgia’s blueberry crop became more valuable than our peach crop. Our blueberry crop brought in $75 million in 2008. Read about the development of commercial blueberry horticulture in Georgia in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

One problem Native Americans had to solve was how to store food. They had to deal with predatory insects, rodents, and other creatures that might get into their stores. They also had to process foods so that they would keep for a time. Dried food, like pemmican, was one way to do this.

How else might have prehistoric Native Americans stored food? Remember, they had no refrigerators or freezers.

The title of this Ponder playfully refers to a well-known book named “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. It’s about a girl named Sal who goes out with her Mom to pick blueberries and has a grand adventure.