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Let’s Cook: A Worthwhile Pick

In the pantheon of North Dakota’s little luxuries, fall brings the best that the state has to offer. The first gem to appear is the harvest moon which is round and sports a vibrant hue of orange and shines brightly on the horizon. Next comes the fall’s high blue heaven often scattered with flocks of geese. The days have lost their scorching heat and there is a satisfaction knowing winter’s impairment is not nearby. There is nothing better than simply gazing at the sky on a cool fall day to see the pure beauty of nature. It is inspiring and often motivates us to rake the yard or pick up the paint brush for some last-minute sprucing up; it can even bring us to our knees to plant tulips blubs.

We have a family tradition that comes alive in the fall and that involves appreciating one of the great beauties of this earth. This is perhaps a favorite luxury of many North Dakota residents – a tree that showcases autumn’s gladness. When we lived in Rugby, we had a favorite tree in town. Each fall we would drive by to see our old majestic friend getting into a new wardrobe. Its strong arms reaching towards the sky looked grand as its leaves rustled in tones of russet, bonfire orange, parchment and crimson. Just the other day Jan said, “Let’s drive by the prettiest tree in the Magic City.” We did, and her fall tapestry will soon be on display in Northwest Minot.

This past weekend our family along with our nephew, Tanner, picked the most beautiful crabapples from a grand tree that has been a long-time family acquaintance. As crabapples were placed in our buckets, shades of cranberry, rosy pink and even a sight blush became a treasure trove for our eyes. The ephemeral waft of their perfume permeated our senses and easily cast a spell of pure contentment. Beneath its flat, leathery leaves we talked of nature’s beauty, the smell of the nearby harvest, and how pleasing it is to our eyes to see these rubies set against the blue sky as we pick.

It was a sunny afternoon, and yet our steady friend offers shade as we place an old, green wool blanket on the ground to be the corral for our picking. Beneath the spreading boughs was a ladder and Tanner and I took turns climbing to reach the ripest gems. Lydia is kneeing as she sorts, discards and perceives what is come of this abundant display. She remarks that beautiful pink jelly made from these crabapples will be more than pleasing on a cold winter morning.

It was not only a time of rich and bounteous harvest but rejoicing and sharing good cheer as generations before us had. This tree expands three generations of Jan’s family and never a harvest passes that we don’t take time to recall those who farmed, shared laughter and sorrow near this tree. They knew that our lives are parallel to the seasons and that eventually a blanket of snow will bring rest to the land and to our busy harvest souls as well. It is a blessed pattern that time cannot change.

In addition to making the favorite crabapple jelly, we also like to can whole crabapples and use them as sauce.

Crabapple Sauce

It is best to prepare the syrup first when using this recipe.

6 to 8 pint-size canning jars

3 pounds of crabapples

5 ¢ cups of water

3 cups of sugar

Red hot candies

3 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon whole cloves

Wash and sort apples thoroughly and discard any that are bruised. Place into a 2 quart or larger pan. Cover crabapples with water and cook on high heat until the water boils. Reduce heat to medium and cook for two minutes. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and strain the crabapples. Pack into sterilized jars just before carefully ladling in syrup. Add enough syrup so that there is only a ¢ inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe off spills, and place lids on top of jars and twist on rings until tight. Be sure not to overpack jars. Process in hot water bath on high for 10 minutes making sure that water covers the top of the jars. Carefully remove jars after processing and let them cool. Check to see that they have sealed before storing in a dry, cool place.

The syrup

In a large kettle, mix together water, sugar, and red hots starting with ¢ cup–you may add more if you desire. Heat this mixture and stir until all the candies have melted. Add the cinnamon and cloves which have been placed in a tied, cheesecloth bag and heat for 20 minutes. Continue to stir the mixture so that it doesn’t burn. This will make a medium thickness syrup that will be poured into the jars with crabapples.

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