Wednesday, 16 January 2013

BLUEBERRIES by" Martin Hunter"

The Blueberry Patch 2012
Photo by B. Brill

Article written over 100 years ago but the generation "gap" was already showing.

"Martin Hunter" writes:

I have always advocated the saving of imported provisions, when giving advice to hunters and trapppers. The transportation of "White man's food" into the interior is always costly and a laborious work, and the more one subsists on what the country in which we hunt produces, the greater the saving from civilization.

I have pointed out in previous articles , the wholesomeness of several kinds of animal flesh, which the ordinary trapper throws away, the mode of preserving meat and fish by smoke drying, and other valuable hints.

One effect of civilization on the younger generation of Indians is to cause them to deride what their forefathers did to sustain life. The tendency is for them to look down upon, as beneath them, the patience shown by the old Indians in conserving country produce for the coming winter.

White men, however, as a rule are open to conviction and willing to learn where a saving can be made, and it is to such I pen this article.

Photo by B. Brill
"Every year in the back country,
 crops of luscious berries expand,
 fall to the ground
 and are lost."
Bears, marten, fisher and birds feed on them, but the crop is generally too abundant for those to make any perceptible diminishments. With the Old Indians of away back, the conserving of blueberries for winter use, was one of their obligations and attended to yearly.

The gathering of the berries was understood to be the work of the women and children, but occasionally the men pitched in for a day or so to advance matters.

As the berry season is also bear season, the men generally roamed about the brule hunting for "Black pit", while the family gathered the fruit on the edge of the clearance.

Bears, once the berry season is on, eat and eat almost continuously through the day, for this is the time when they put on fat to protect them from the excessive cold of the coming winter.

Blueberries are about the only fruit I know of that can be eaten in large quantities without any injurious results. One can consume appalling quantities without suffering any derangement of the stomach. This cannot be said of strawberries or raspberries.

The Indians had two ways of curing the berry, one way by drying and the other by evaporation. Both required a considerable amount of labour and patience, but they did it.

Berries for drying purposes were gathered before the first frost, as at that stage they are not so full of fluid. The Indians kept for the purpose of drying, mats of woven rushes or flags.

These mats were four feet long by three feet broad, the woof used being of strands of the inner bark of the cedar, a fibre which is very strong when twisted. A staging about three feet high being erected with strong poles all around, the mats were fully extended and tied over this, lapping a few inches over their edges so the fruit id not fall through.

The fresh picked berries were then spread on top to an equal depth of four fingers and a well-spread fire of moderate intensity started.

Whit what watching the proper degree of heat and the almost continual stirring of the berries, the fruit dryer had to keep pretty close to her job. Too much heat, of course, would cause the berries to burst, and too little would arrest the drying process. The work, therefore, to make a success required the utmost attention.

As the season for this work began about the twentieth of August, an occasional bright, sunshiny day could be expected even after this date. When such a blessing did occur another staging out in the open was erected and upon this the berries were exposed, but the stirring and moving about process continued all the time.

An Indian is partial to a smokey flavor to his dried fish and flesh and many like a tang of smoke on their berries. Those that do are not so careful about pure heat drying, but let the fire and smoke do their work together. When thoroughly dry like our currants of commerce, they are stored away in bark baskets in a dry place and used during the winter in various ways.

A white trapper would find them a nice addition to his barley soup or to help stuff a roast duck or partridge. A handful may be thrown into a flour soup with rabbits as the meat is very palatable to a hungry man and well relished.

As the berries cost him nothing but his labour it is worth while some of my brother trappers trying this. A few put in a frying pan, adding sugar to taste, makes a nice jam desert, or to eat with venison, duck, partridge and other game. No water is required, the sugar being sufficient.

The evaporation method or blueberry cake is made in the following way:

The berries are not picked until fully ripe and a frost has passed over the field. The beautiful bloom is then gone, the berry, perfectly black, is at the point of bursting.

The good wife's large copper kettle is then brought forth, hung on a strong pole, each end resting on a stout forked picket strongly planted in the ground and the kettle filled three parts full of fresh berries. Fire is again the "motif." With a strong hardwood palette in  the shape of a small paddle, the old woman keeps the fruit constantly stirred, while a bright fire underneath keeps the kettle boiling. At the first going off these is a tendency for the pot to boil over, this is kept back by drawing the pot aside for a few moments and stirring vigorously.

For the first hour or two a cloud of vapour arises from the berries; this is the watery part evaporating. Later the contents get thicker and thicker, casting forth only occasional bubbles of steam. The cooking process is carried on until the mass is so thick that the paddle remains erect in the middle. This test assures the woman that the contents are properly done.

The berries being now cooked to requirements, are scooped out into oval or other shaped bark pans and left to solidify. After becoming stiff enough to hold their shape they are placed upon scaffolding and smoke dried. When cool once more they are stored away in bark roggans for future use.

A slice or two of this cake placed in pancake batter makes a nice breakfast eaten with sugar or syrup.

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