Written by Phin Upham
Blueberries are a New World food, so named because they originated from the Americas. The indigo colored fruit was often eaten fresh, but colonial cooks found the taste so similar to other berries that they found their way into all kinds of dishes. It was common to find blueberry preserves or jams, but they made their way into pies and muffins too.
Blueberries grow from a shrub that comes from the genus Vaccinium, which is native to parts of the Western hemisphere. It grows in either high or low bush varieties. Americans have been cultivating high bushes for the better part of the twentieth century, and the berries it yields are noticeably bigger than wild versions.
Blueberries keep much better both fresh and frozen, so they were highly prized for their shelf-life. There are accounts of Native Americans drying the berries in the sun for consumption later in the winter. They would beat the dried berries into a fine powder, which would then go into other dishes to give them a sweetened flavor. Natives would also smoke the berries in large-quantities, changing the flavor to a very slight sweet smoke. Meanwhile, Alaskans would preserve them in seal oil to eat when the snows would fall.
English settlers in America caused something of confusion when they tried to identify the berries. They mistakenly believed they were looking at whortleberries or huckleberries, and often used the term bilberry to describe them too.