Let’s Cook: A 3-for-1 on apples
I’m just a bit old-fashioned. In spite of all the modern ways and new technology, I still find myself stepping back in time. This is particularly true in late summer and early autumn when the garden produce of fire red tomatoes, bumpy two-tone green cucumbers, and red-violet beets are as steady as the sun rise. Labor Day week brought our family to another harvest. That was the gathering of crabapples at the former Tommy and Hattie Brekke farm north of Ray. The tree of plenty resides behind the family home and its large canopy of branches lets you know she was around even prior to the 1960 presidential election. She has been a thread of connection between the Brekke family and my wife’s family, the Thompsons, for many years. In fact she has witnessed generations of both families gathering at the tree to pick her ruby goodness.
Jan along with her mother, Delores, and her Aunt Ethel looked forward to crabapple time and the jellies and crabapple butter that will be made. Plus, picking the fruit is also enjoyable. While the grain fields are at their harvest peak, the roadside wildflowers wink, and our eyes tend to wander to find other great things nature has made. In fact, this weekend, pale and weathered pink prairie roses were still blooming in the ditch as the harvest pickers included Jan, Delores, Norman and Lydia. Yep, another generation and that makes me smile. Grandpa’s hand held the branch as Lydia brought together the crabapples in her little hands. She kept saying, “just one more branch there are so many up there.” Last fall, our nephew Tanner and I removed several dead branches from this crabapple tree. After all, she is part of the family, and we need to look after her. This year, Tanner was busy hustling with harvest, but he managed to send a photo showing the many ready rosy crabapples.
When Lydia was in first grade in Rugby, her teacher, Mrs. Schulz, asked her how she spent Labor Day. She responded, “My dad I went to Ellery Park and picked crabapples.” That was a great day watching her climb on the ladder to grab the reddest apples she could and then placed them in our enameled washtubs. This time reminded me of apple picking at our home in Underwood. My dad had planted several apple trees and most summers their branches were bending by September. Even though my dad was busy, he took time for this. That created a lifelong interest with me and apples. Mom would join us and we would visit while we worked. Marriage and parenting take time and effort. They both had jobs; however, they took time to work at melding with me at the apple tree. Now, we could have done it while zip-lining at the Royal Gorge in Colorado, but then I would have never learned the many wonderful things you can make from apples. My dad enjoyed wearing striped overalls, and he would not have wanted to take chance on the zip line getting caught in his straps.
There is a great satisfaction that comes from picking, canning and admiring jars filled with the abundance of summer. Even at her young age, Lydia often says “there is nothing like homemade.” She is a very willing picker, and also likes to lend a hand with the canning. Her favorite task to date is perhaps taking the skin off of tomatoes. She plants tomatoes each spring, and so far we have been blessed to have enough for a bit of canning. Her favorite way to use these tomatoes is, without a doubt, in homemade tomato soup milk base with chunks of tomatoes.
When I moved to Rugby to operate Strand Studio, the former owners, Curt and Maxine Strand, invited Jan and I over to pick apples especially the high ones. Maxine had an interest in her apples well into her 90s. She often cooked them in small batches, sugared them to taste, and then froze them in smaller containers to great success. Much to her dismay, folks would sometime sneak into her yard and pick apples. I was there once when this happened. Maxine went to the door with her cane and yelled out to the picker, “Good morning, I am delighted you are picking the apples. I decided not to use them as I had my trees sprayed with an insecticide, but do go ahead and help yourself!” Upon closing the door, we both roared as the picker quickly hopped over her fence.
Taking care of the harvest, whether it be in many fields, a small garden plot, or a crabapple tree, brings generations together. Folks in North Dakota know this, and that helps to make for healthy family connections and friendships. Yes, harvest is work lots of work but well worth it because you never know when that seed of interest will take root in a young mind. Those young minds begin to understand nature, take an interest, and sometimes send even send a photo on their iPhone to a relative reminding them that the old-fashioned crabapples are ready.
The recipes I share with you today started with homegrown apples. The apples were peeled for the cake. Then the peelings were simmered with crabapples and cranberries. The juice was then strained and sugar was added for taste, making a delicious drink. I did peel more apples than were need for the cake, so the extra apples were sliced cooked, sugared to taste and raisins were added to create sauce.
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