LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Marinara

On Wednesday, I commandeered the canner from Jim so that I could make the season’s first batch of marinara at Red Oak House.

He grows a variety of tomatoes, including paste type, starting these from seed in the basement in the early spring. As I’ve previously written, he has harvested more than a thousand tomatoes and cans many jars of his specialty — juice. For marinara, he freezes the paste tomatoes, cuts off the tops and places them in Ziploc bags.

Tuesday night, he carried up the bags and placed them in the kitchen sink to thaw. The skins slip off easily, and I peel a total of 81, which will make a nice thick sauce. While I work, I listen to Prairie Public Radio and watch the world from my kitchen window.

Jim peels a couple of big heads of garlic, and I chop and saute the garlic in about 2 cups of olive oil.The garlic is fresh, a gift from our friend, Mike, who has a huge garden at his home near Gilby, N.D. (Our crop was paltry.)

I roughly follow the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” with my own variations. Making the marinara at this time is ideal for several reasons, including that I have an ample supply of fresh basil and oregano from my garden.

After I have the tomatoes in the pots, I wash the bags and dry with one of the hand-embroidered dish towels that my mother stitches for us. I do this because we are thrifty and as environmentally conscious as possible. The tomato skins get dumped into our compost pile.

While the sauce simmers, I wash the quart jars in hot, soapy water. As the tomatoes “cook down,” I mash with my old-fashioned masher.

To stir the sauce, I use my favorite spoon, the one that was my mother’s all of her years raising children. It fits in my hand perfectly and is sturdy. If that spoon could tell stories…

The smoke from forest fires in the western U.S. is so thick today in North Dakota it is as if it is foggy. The amber light, although beautiful, is unsettling. In contrast to the smell of smoke outdoors, the aroma in my kitchen is divine. This makes us both happy, and we savor the thought of how delicious the marinara will be when the winter snow is deep.

After several hours of simmering, I add the chopped herbs and my secret ingredient, and ladle the marinara into the jars for processing, according to the Ball canning guide.

Five hours and six quarts down, along with a half-quart fresh on pasta for supper, with shrimp. I tuck my apron away in the drawer, a good day’s work done.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 29

Something is puzzling me this year in the garden. In the front yard, the impatiens are insipid, but in the backyard perennial beds, these bright shade annuals are robust.

What could possibly be the explanation? My first instinct was the hot, dry weather and the lack of rain water, but this would be true both in front and back.  Naturally, I cannot remember if I bought these from two different suppliers, but that is possible. I know this because I’ve compared photographs from last year to this year.

We finished a project we’d been talking about for a while, the letters I purchased and stained, declaring to the world that this is Red Oak House, and I think we are both pleased with the result. Now, we can only hope that our Red Oak, the oldest mature Red Oak in Bismarck, continues to thrive. Soon enough its leaves will turn brown. Yup, brown, not red. I’m not really certain why it gets the name “red oak.” I guess I can research that on a slow day. We know this factoid about our tree because the city forester told us.

The monarch butterflies and other pollinators are busily visiting our plants, and the hummingbirds seem to have moved on.

For his birthday, Jim received the gift of a handmade gazing ball. No doubt, we’ll move it around in the perennial bed as it suits our fancy.

Reporting on my experiment with harvesting and planting seeds from my hosta: So far, a failure, but I’ve not given up hope. Perhaps these will emerge in the spring? Just in case, I’ve mapped the area of the garden, knowing that snowbanks will crush the flimsy plastic markers I’ve used.

The crabapple trees are full of fruit, and my husband has a big smile on his face every day, coming in with armloads of tomatoes. That and he is back in the boat catching walleyes on the Missouri River. His tomato count Saturday morning was 1,062 and he made six more jars of tomato juice, bringing his total count for the year to 65 quarts. Can you say licopene?

As if this wasn’t enough, his raspberry patch is producing fruit. He says “if there could only be one fruit, raspberries it would be.

Friday night was what we call “Nothing From the Store” supper. Walleye, beans, baked potatoes, and fresh tomatoes.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — September, North Dakota

My favorite month in North Dakota is September.

It is a difficult choice. June is filled with new growth in the perennial beds and the planting of the garden and with birdsong.

But September. Ah, September.

The heat of summer has passed. I dislike the hot weather. I wilt easily.

My children and husband were born in September, so it is a time of celebration for us.

In September, the sky is bluer than blue, and it is still and quiet. The Missouri River is like glass. Each day is a gift, a pause before the northern Plains winter to come. The tomatoes are abundant, and my husband is busy with the harvest. He and his buddy will soon be occupied with the fall walleye bite on the Missouri, and duck hunting begins. Right around the corner are pheasant and goose seasons. I get some time on my own.

I can sit under our aspen grove and watch the leaves turn to golden. The two trees that Sheila Schafer gifted to us have grown to 35 feet tall.

The three aspen seedlings that I’ve allowed to remain are also doing well.

The back patio is nicely shaded on these September days, and we can linger over morning coffee and supper. Overhead we watch the migrating hawks pass by.

The last Dakota Sunshine daylily of the year makes its appearance.

Meanwhile, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, following the various shades of khaki and juniper, yellow is a dominant color, with the blooming of rubber rabbitbrush, curly-cup gumweed and sunflowers. There is a hint of autumn in the green ash trees.

The bison rut has passed, and the herds placidly move about the park, in their ancient rhythms.

Savor the wild September moments in your life.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Rain At Red Oak House

Over an inch of rain in the gauge when we returned from Colorado and some showers this week reminded us that it still “can” rain in this country, and for this we give thanks.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the patio, nursing my knee injury and reading a book that I’m reviewing but eventually retreated to the house to listen to Prairie Home Companion and catch up on some work on my laptop.

Jim dug half of the Pontiac Red potatoes, and he cooked two for supper, along with broccoli, accompanied by grilled steaks from our brother-in-law. The broccoli has been abundant, from a few small plants we bought last spring from Cottontail Greenhouse south of Mandan, N.D.

The freezer is almost full and just needs an infusion of walleye from the fall Missouri River bite and some pheasants and goose. Then, it is “Bring on the Dakota winter”! My sister gifted us with some of her beautiful garlic, to supplement our pitiful harvest.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve put the autumn decor out early this year. Perhaps it is a sign of weariness of this hot and dry summer and readiness for the glorious cool and blue days of September in North Dakota. Perhaps my cue is the arrival of the chrysanthemums. Listening to Jim and Jeff talk about the fall bite on the river puts me in the mood, for certain. None of us particularly like hot weather.

Jim is coaxing hundreds of green tomatoes to ripen, in the face of soon-to-come frost. He applied fertilizer to hasten the process as per the advice of my Aunt Frances, and he is severely pruning the plants, too. Hopefully, this week’s return to high 80s will do its magic.

A couple of late daylilies have peeked out, the last of this season. Soon enough, it will be time to cut back all of the foliage to prepare for winter. But for now, we enjoy the fruits of our labor, and I hope you do as well.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 28

Home now — to return to garden harvest — after a week in which we neglected it for some folks festival fun.

I noticed that this is my first of garden notes for August, a sign that my flowers peaked earlier this season. There are just a few daylily blossoms here and there, and I await the emergence of the chrysanthemums. Meanwhile, the bittersweet berries are beginning to turn orange.

This limelight hydrangea also bridges the gap, and the sedum is showing autumn color.

Jim harvested the Yukon Gold potato crop and the carrots. (He dug these early because a renegade rabbit had gotten into the fenced area whilst we were traveling.) He keeps saying this is his best garden ever, and we are grateful for chicken wire.

I think I heard Jim tell someone we have harvested more than 400 tomatoes at this point.

Here is our pitiful harvest of purple-hulled peas. We used year-old seed and should have known better. Better luck next year, we hope.

I’m healing from a nasty fall that seriously injured my knee while in Colorado, so the garden work will have to be light for me for now. Jim promises he’ll do some of the digging. I don’t do “laid up” well.

The red-breasted nuthatches are darting about in the blue spruce trees calling their quiet and rasping autumn song. The cool days and open windows are a blessing.

At our table last night, for a gathering of friends: walleye, rosemary garlic roasted potatoes, creamed cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, Prosecco and yellow tomato lime sorbet. Cheers!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Annual BLT Party

Here at Red Oak House, we’ve established a tradition, an annual mid-August BLT party with our good friends Bob and Jodi and Larry and Charlotte.  Some years Clay attends if he is in town.

We cook up the bacon from Crow Butte Mercantile and slice up a bunch of our home-grown tomatoes. We were pleased today because, usually, our garden lettuce is not growing at the same time as our tomatoes, however for some reason this year, it is, so our guests also got lettuce freshly picked this morning. (I think it was because Jim planted it where there is quite a lot of shade.) For the toast, we served Bread Poets Maah Daah Hey Trail bread and fresh sourdough.

For a very special dessert, I created my special yellow tomato lime sorbet, using my sister’s ice cream maker. This is very popular and a surprisingly tasty treat. I mean, who would think that yellow tomatoes would work out this way?

The conversation is scintillating, and we have lots of laughs, too. Sadly, the daylilies have waned, but the day dawned nice and cool, so we won’t broil on the back patio, our preferred spot for this party. We’ve had two very nice rain showers in the past two days, and for this, we rejoice.

Earlier this spring, I planted 80 gladiolus bulbs, and a few are now blooming.

In case you were wondering, my German chocolate cake was a big hit with my family last night. It was wonderful to have many of us together on a summer’s night, celebrating another year for my pa. We didn’t opt for 90-plusl candles.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Broccoli Pasta Salad

Salads are for summertime — especially if you have a garden. There’s nothing like a bunch of fresh veggies from the garden — all tossed together in a bowl and seasoned with a homemade vinaigrette — to start off a meal.

With a nice crop of lettuce and kale in our garden, we’ve been enjoying fresh salads for going on three months now. And with the tomatoes just starting to ripen, the salads are only going to get better.

But there is more to salads than the greens. Take, for example, the following broccoli salad recipe, which has many variations, and is a favorite of ours in the summer.

We usually have three or four broccoli plants in the garden, which keep on producing right up until freeze-up. This summer, however, baby bunnies raised havoc with the plants, and we have only two out of four remaining, and they have been stunted by the “Wascally Wabbits,” as cartoon character Elmer Fudd used to call Bugs Bunny and his ilk.

The hasn’t stopped Therese from making the broccoli salad, though. I just finished the last of her most recent batch, all the while wishing there was more.

I guess I’ll have to settle for more garden green salads instead.

Broccoli Pasta Salad
2 cups broccoli, broken into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
½ cup black olives, chopped
1 7½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 16-ounce bottle Italian dressing (can use fat-free)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Cool. Mix in large bowl with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Glen Campbell And Other Musings

When I was a little girl, Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” was a big hit on AM radio. Somehow, because my father had been a lineman in Mississippi in the time period after World War II  I got confused and for a little while and was pretty sure he and Glen Campbell were one and the same person. I eventually got this sorted out and understood the truth, but I’m still rather fond of the song.

Other musings: This photo was a happy reminder for me of a past hike, taken five years ago today. I so love Theodore Roosevelt National Park that I’ll climb the tall bison fence to get into the backcountry. My husband took this photo. My sister, Sarah, joined us for the hike and just as nimbly clambered over that fence.

Garden news is that I planted the hosta seed I’ve been harvesting. We’ll see what happens. A seed can be magic, a miracle in the palm of my hand.

On the way to pick up supplies at the grocery store, I spotted this sign. Good sentiment.

Other tiny seeds have turned this summer to these beauties.

In the kitchen, I’m converting the bounty to yellow tomato lime sorbet and listening to Campbell’s last release as I putter.


Adios, indeed, Mr. Campbell.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — The Rhythms Of Life: Family And Garden

“… all that we behold
Is full of blessings”
—  William Wordsworth

I spent some of the morning with my nonagenarian father, who teaches me each day about dignity and stoicism. When out in public, he almost always wears a hat, and these hats tell about his life.

Garland Crook.
Garland Crook.

I think the fact that he was in the U.S. Army Security Agency reveals much about him and his sense of duty. I remember as a girl when he would often be looking for clues of poachers or other such miscreants who might be in the neighborhood. This made it challenging as a teenager, since in the long run, one couldn’t get away with much. (On one memorable occasion, when I had missed curfew, my parents made me clean out the chicken coop — what a miserable day!) Oh, and the fact that he had a CB radio meant we teenagers were also somewhat monitored.

Each day, my father looks more and more like his mother, Lena Bell, aka Mama Crook, with that square and clenched Ellis jaw. I have that jaw and that way of setting my jaw when I’m having to dig deep for determination. So does my Aunt Fran, one of his sisters.

He has always been a wonderful storyteller and appreciates a good joke. Whenever he sees my husband, he asks about the fishing. His brother tried to convince him once that he’d be a good tournament fisher, and though it wasn’t the path he took in life, I’m sure my uncle was right.

You can read more about my Daddy and his service in the U.S. Army here.

In my garden, the daylilies are waning.

Jim canned the first jars of tomato juice and made more pickles.

I cooked the promised tomatoes stuffed with black rice risotto, along with a slab of baked salmon, taking advantage of the cool weather in which to bake. We ate it on the patio, savoring the last few moments here on the northern Plains to eat outside.

ERIC BERGESON: Photo Gallery — Bergeson Gardens

Bergeson Gardens, located southeast of Fertile, Minn., at Bergeson Nursery, is in full bloom and will be through early September. There will be an open house at the nursery Saturday, which will feature free coffee and donuts, food and ice cream for sale, music (11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and garden tours (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.). All plants will be 20 percent off Saturday and Sunday only.