I first saw her sitting in the corner of Jan's parents' comfortable living room with a crochet hook in her hand crafting squares of the crocheted Irish rose pattern. If you live in North Dakota and know anyone who is Norwegian, you have seen an Irish rose crocheted square. They are often made into potholders and usually feature four vivid green leaves with a colored rose in the center of the square. The edges were often finished with thread matching the rose. They were as popular in the 1950s as the iPhone is today - and I might add, every bit as handy. After all, the ultimate cook would certainly want to coordinate their rose potholders with the colored casserole coming out of the oven.
Jan's aunt, Gladys, was a master with her crochet hook, and she specialized in beautiful rose squares. Her whirling touch with thread and crochet hook was to be admired. She was content to spend hours making beautiful items for friends and family. Once I observed her working on white squares with deep red roses, and she joined them together with ease to form an afghan. It lay on her lap like a blanket of newly fallen snow sprinkled with crimson roses. This talent was something that brought Gladys contentment in her life.
Gladys is the next-youngest sister of my mother-in-law, Delores Thompson. Often when children are born close together, they have a special bond. This was undoubtedly the case between Delores and Gladys - after all, they were only 11 months apart. Delores always took the time and consideration to attend to the needs of her sister.
Being a person who delights in details, I began to ask questions of Gladys' interests. Delores told me that Gladys was an aspirant of outdoor gardening and household plants. Time certainly reveled that she was gifted with a green thumb. When she was 20 years old, she had planted a lemon seed in a tin can on their farm north of Williston. From the beginning, Gladys gave this seed her undivided attention. She often would walk it to the farm well. Once watered, she would let it rest in the sunshine for the day - where, from time to time, it would hear the call of the meadowlark. By evening, she carefully carried her trifling stem back to the shelter of the comfy farm house. She adored her budding lemon tree. Gladys's discipline and cultivation over the years brought forth a substantial stem and deep, green, robust elliptic leaves. Its growth was a sign of goodness and proved that indoors North Dakota can entertain lemon trees!
When Gladys married Carl Olson, the lemon tree went right along with the honeymooners in 1960. (Rumor has it after hearing the debates that fell between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, the lemon started growing to the left in the heat of their kitchen. I bet even Harry Truman would have liked this lemon tree.) Over the years, Gladys carefully nurtured her lemon tree, to an expansion where it had to be transplanted into a large, metal, galvanized garbage can. The progression of lemon tree was frequently a conversation piece and was particularly noticeable in
their home. In time, because of her health concerns, Gladys moved to a care center in Valley City. She could not take her cherished lemon tree with her. For a time, it resided with her husband, but when Carl passed away, the tree was cared for by her sister, Myrtle Erdman. Whenever Gladys was in conversation with her sisters, she always asked first about her lemon tree. Even though she was far removed from it, she still took a keen interest in her beloved lemon tree.
Just a year ago, Gladys Lorraine passed away - Oct. 2, 2011. At her funeral at First Lutheran Church in Williston, intuitive Reverend Ben Loven connected Gladys planting her lemon seed to the Heavenly Father planting the seed of hope and love within each of us. He reminded us that just as Gladys diligently cared for her lemon tree, the Heavenly Father cares for his children. It was truly a fitting and heartwarming testimony.
Gladys' lemon tree, which was planted 59 years ago in 1953, has continued to flourish. Like her, it highlights the paradox of being vulnerable and strong at the same time - strength to grow in the current situation but with hope for tomorrow. The lemon tree had continued to grow in Myrtle's home. Not so long ago, while visiting with Robert and Terry Gannaway, also of Williston, they came up with a remedy to move the tree to their home in Arizona. (They are truly folks who understand when handed lemons, make lemonade.) Lemon orchards exist in Arizona. In fact, some are the Harvey lemon and the Avon lemon - who knows, they could be a cousin to Gladys' tree!
So, last month, the lemon tree spent one week outdoors in Myrtle's carport - an initiation of sorts - to its soon-to-be life outdoors and its farewell to North Dakota. After the initiation, the Gannaways arrived with an enclosed moving van. Gladys' lemon tree was ready for the long road trip to its new home in Arizona. How fitting - the lemon tree is experiencing new life - as is Gladys, because of her faith.
Lemon Sponge Custard
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 eggs separated
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup lemon juice plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup light cream or milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the sugar, butter and lemon peel together. Add the egg yolks and beat well with wire whip. Stir in alternately the flour, lemon juice, cream or milk. Next, beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff, and then fold them into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the batter into a 7-inch ovenproof dish and set the dish in a larger pan filled with 1 inch of hot water. Bake the custard one hour, or until set. It is important to check on the baking as you don't want to overbake the custard. Serve hot or cold, with whipped cream, if desired.
Current reports are that the lemon tree is developing soundly. I have hopes that its goodness will produce very appealing lemons and that some of those lemons will end up in my kitchen! They will then be transformed into a beautiful lemon meringue pie. You can bet I will remove it from the oven with a pair of yellow Irish rose potholders that match a very yellow pie plate.
This is one dessert we enjoy having at breakfast. One way to improve custard is to first boil the milk and then cool it before being used. If you prefer richer custard, a small, walnut-size piece of butter will do nicely.
Lemon Sponge Pie
Grated peel and juice of two lemons
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, yolks and whites beaten separately
1/2 recipe pastry
Fit the pie crust in a pan and set it in the refrigerator while the filling is mixed. Work the butter into the sugar and add egg yolks, beating well. Stir in the flour; add lemon juice, milk and vanilla, beating well after each addition. Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth and add them to the mixture gently, taking care not to break the air bubbles. Pour into the unbaked pastry shell and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. The filling will form a creamy, tender custard, topped with a spongy crust like cake.
This recipe comes from my mother's file and it was it given to her by her Aunt Martina Christensen-Sorensen. Aunt Martina once lived in Turtle Lake with her husband Martin who operated a blacksmith shop and a hatchery there. This pie has excellent taste and appealing texture.