American Indian women treasure their female friendships, both relatives and friends. Historically, and as it is today in some tribes, the men go off to hunt or work and women and children remain together for long hours or days.
As women know, making food, farming, weaving and all other chores go by faster with company. In mid-spring, a fun activity to share is picking berries.
As a young girl, I felt honored to be invited along with my mother and two of her friends to a secret place on Conanicut Island, Rhode Island to pick wild blueberries. A picnic was prepared, baskets and pails gathered, and we were off! I am guessing many of my sisters in Indian Country know what I mean.
Now, my family has four high-bush blueberry bushes, which are amazingly prolific providing plenty of these big beauties to use daily during the season and quite enough to freeze for winter use. They are much more flavorful than store-bought berries.
Blueberries are in season in spring and summer in most localities; however, due to global trade, they are imported and available year round. Of course, the price will usually reflect this journey, so buying locally or growing your own is the best option.
When buying blueberries at the store, shake the container to make sure they all move about. If they don’t, this could mean some are moldy or crushed. When buying any kind of berries, remember that they do not ripen after being picked. All berries contain antioxidants, such as ellagic acid, which “has been found to cause cell death in cancer cells in the laboratory,” according to the American Cancer Society. They also contain high amounts of vitamin C, one of the strongest antioxidants that helps reduce the risk of cancer, infections and heart disease.
When putting fresh blueberries into a batter for baking, dust them with a little flour—this prevents them from sinking to the bottom of your muffins or cake. If making pancakes, drop a few on top of the batter before turning them over in the pan. Even if you fold them gently into the batter, they will bleed color and make blue-gray pancakes—not pretty. It’s nice to remember that blueberries are native to North America and have long been a part of American Indian diet and medicine. They are wholesome and delicious alone, or mixed in yogurt with a sprinkle of wheat germ, the embryo of the wheat berry, which contains nutrients that help reduce cholesterol absorption.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Grease muffin tin or use paper liners
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar, or substitute
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
¾ cup milk
1 cup blueberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and ¼ cup of the sugar in a large bowl.
In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk and butter. Stir them quickly into the dry ingredients until they are just moistened.
Dust the blueberries with a little flour before ever so gently folding them into the batter. Mixture will be lumpy.
Fill muffin cups half full. Combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle a little over each muffin. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.