Innu woman keeps traditional Saint-Jean blueberry recipe in the family

Thérèse Bégin and her granddaughter Darcy Dominique Launière gather blueberries on their old ancestral territories, now the Ashuapmushuan Wildlife Reserve north of Lac Saint-Jean.

The recipe for making blueberry paste has been passed down through seven generations, originally intended to keep berries throughout the winter in birch bark containers.

Bégin, who is Innu, grew up in the area and still spends much of her time in and around the nature reserve.

Twenty-seven-year-old Launière helps her grandmother to hunt, cook and craft. She told Radio-Canada that it helps her stay connected to her heritage.

"I help out some and I'm learning pretty well also. It's important to keep the tradition and show my children," she said.

The two women don't need to make the blueberry paste — they can freeze local blueberries and eat them all year round — but it's not out of necessity that they toil.

"These are my memories of my ancestors," said Bégin. "I don't want that to be forgotten."

Bégin and Launière set up a tripod-like structure to hang the heavy metal pot and build a wood fire beneath it.

The end of the blueberry season is ideal for picking since the berries have a high concentration of sugars inside. They mix the berries with a little water and stew them.

"The blueberry is pure like that. It has lots of vitamins inside, and that's why my parents didn't add sugar or anything," Bégin explained.

​The process can stretch for several hours depending on how many blueberries are left to boil in the pot.

The women stir frequently to keep the paste from sticking to the bottom and burning.

While they wait, they make containers using the birch bark by rolling it into a cylinder and piercing holes at each end.

Sharpened branches are used to seal the packages for storage and small bowls are shaped to serve the paste or hold fresh blueberries during harvesting.

"I can say that I've never gone without food in the forest, never," said Bégin. "If I can pass on the things I know to people, to my community, to other communities, I can be proud of that."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Priscilla Plamondon-Lalancette