Last month I decided to buy a bag of dried blueberries to snack on at work. I really wanted to save them to use in a recipe for a homemade blueberry muffin mix. I had also purchased raw almonds for snacking. I decided to try the two together and realized how delicious they were when combined. Needless to say, I never made the muffin mix and there are no more blueberries and almonds at my desk.

Blueberries have deep roots in the history of our country. Native Americans were using them year-round when Europeans arrived in North America. They dried them and used them is soups, stews and meats. They also crushed them into a powder that was rubbed onto meats to preserve them. The powder could also be combined with cornmeal, water and honey to make a pudding. The roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes.

The versatile fruit helped the newcomers survive their first cold winter in America. Native American folklore states that the Great Spirit sent “star berries” to ease the hunger of children during a famine. Look for the five points, called the calyx, at the blossom end the next time you’re enjoying blueberries.

America’s blue blooded berry appears in some curiously named dishes such as: Blueberry Buckle – a succulent coffee cake with lots of blueberries and a streusel topping; Blueberry Grunt – this biscuit covered dessert starts to “grunt” when the skillet it is prepared in gets covered; and Blueberry Flummery – a soft, sweet heavy porridge designed by the Shakers, a religious group that formed in eighteenth-century England.

Sweet blueberries don’t just make your smoothies, cereals, pancakes and muffins taste better. They’re low in fat and a good source of fiber and Vitamin C. A one-cup serving of fresh blueberries provides 5 grams of fiber, more than most fruits and vegetables, 15 percent of your daily value for Vitamin C and only 80 calories. Among berries, blueberries lead the way because they are a great source of antioxidants and they are widely available. Some research has shown blueberries can slow degenerative diseases associated with aging and improve motor skills. Still other studies have shown the fruit to improve urinary tract health.

Blueberries make a good partner for dairy foods, fruit and all kinds of nuts (especially almonds, as I found out). Try replacing raisins with dried blueberries in your next granola, oatmeal cookies, gingerbread, corn bread or pound cake. They can even be used in savory pork, chicken and game dishes.

Choose fresh berries that are firm, dry, plump and smooth-skinned. Damp berries should be placed on paper towels to dry them. Color, not size, is an indicator of maturity. Berries should be deep purple to blue-black. Reddish berries aren’t ripe but can be used for cooking. Store fresh berries covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 10 days.

Frozen berries in boxes or poly bags should feel loose, not clumped together. They should be kept frozen until ready to use them. Once thawed, refrigerate and use within three days.

Freezing your own berries is easy. The secret is to use berries that are unwashed and completely dry before popping them into the freezer. Washing toughens the skins. Choose one of these methods: 1) Place the blueberries in a freezer zipper bag, seal airtight, remove air, then freeze or 2) Arrange dry berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet. When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag or freezer container. Wash berries just before using. For best results, use within 8–12 months.

Gayle Williford is the food safety and nutrition educator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service in Moncks Corner. Address comments or questions to editor@lowcountryparent.com.