LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Thousands Of Tomatoes

Well, on Thursday I said it to Jim. That statement that comes around every year:

“I don’t want to see another tomato again for quite awhile.”

By this point, we’ve converted thousands of tomatoes (Jim says over 1,700, plus my sister gave us some of hers) into salsa, juice, marinara — and Thursday, I canned 14 quarts of tomato basil soup. Oh, and all of those BLTs we ate for several months.

Peeling all of these takes hours, on my feet, nine gallon bags worth this morning.  I started to whine that I feel like a canning factory worker rather than a retiree. But … but … but …

This will all be mighty tasty all the long North Dakota winterlong, and I finished in time to take in this afternoon’s Cinema 100 matinee. It was, in my humble opinion, a boring movie, and I wish I had instead gone for a bike ride on such a beautiful day.

On Wednesday, I converted all the bacon fat we’d accumulated for the last year into suet for our feeder. Thank heavens for this beast, my trusty KitchenAid mixer.

It had been our plan to have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper, but we got a better offer, a night out with some of the best friends we could hope for in our revolutions around the sun. We are richly blessed.

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 — 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 — 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.

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.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Gratitude, Rachel And Harvest

Sunday morning I was listening to the “Ted Radio Hour” on Prairie Public Radio. The subject of the interview was talking about physics and the universe, and he said, “We should be grateful for what we know and humbled by what we don’t know.”  Amen, say I.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life. This weekend, I was especially grateful in my North Dakota life for a place like Elks Camp Grassick and the programs that allow my daughter, Rachel, to attend summer camp, on the shores of Lake Isabel. She has attended Technocamp, facilitated by the Anne Carlson Center of Jamestown, N.D., many times, but it has been some years since she was able to attend as she had “aged out.”

We were delighted to hear that it would again be a place she could go to enrich her life and make new friends. I first heard about Camp Grassick from a fellow parent of a special needs child when I was picking Chelsea up from the International Music Camp.

Our twin daughters had rather a rough start to life, born three months prematurely and each at just a little over 2 pounds. They received good medical care in Bismarck and are tenacious souls, and we were surrounded by the love and support of family and community. Somehow we got through the worst of the years of medical crisis, but Rachel lives with developmental delays and cerebral palsy.  She has a smile that lights up a room and takes great joy in many facets of her life.

Back to Camp Grassick. Jim and I drove out to pick up Rachel on Saturday, and he said it makes him so happy to go there. I asked Dan, the director, how many years he has been doing this, and he said 44! Now that is real dedication. Thank you to everyone in the Elks who support this special place and the lives that are enriched there.

Camp Grassick is just south of the tidy village of Dawson, N.D.

Rachel was filled with stories of riding the pontoon, catching fish and earning this award at the banquet. She spent the afternoon playing the board game Sorry! with me and her Aunt Beckie.

Rachel lives in a minimally supported living arrangement apartment in Dickinson, N.D.

One of her staff came to Bismarck to eat supper with us and take her back. She has to get back to her job at Able Inc. on Monday! She is one very busy young lady and so lucky to be able to live as independently as possible, thanks to the programs that make this possible.

Other things I have to be grateful for:

  • We got some rain this week.
  • The gardens are beautiful and our harvest bountiful.
  • I turn on my faucet and clean Missouri River water comes out.
  • We eat BLTs just about every day this time of year.
  • The hot weather has abated.
  • We get to see my elderly parents frequently, and they are very interesting people.
  • I can buy Washington peaches from Royce’s Market on the Strip in Mandan, N.D.
  • The goldfinches come to my backyard feeder.

I’m grateful that we have the best dog ever, a springer spaniel.

Oh, and Jim and I both got to take a swing through the Capitol grounds to take in the annual arts and crafts fest. Time for some kettle corn! We live in a wonderful city in North Dakota.

Harvest continues here, stocking the freezers and shelves with vegetables.Today was “putting up” corn day. The Mandan Graner corn, we learned on social media, was ready to be bought at the Cenex station. We’ve agreed that this corn is so good we don’t need to waste space in our garden (plus the squirrels raid it).

Jim’s job was to get there and buy eight dozen ears of this wonderful sweet corn, and then he sat on the patio, on this nice cool day, and shucked it.

My job was to cut it off the cob — we froze a dozen ears whole — in the Southern manner that my Alabama Aunt Fran has taught me, for Southern creamed corn. I followed her handwritten instructions, and while I stood for hours in the kitchen carefully scraping the cobs, I thought about all of the years my Mama Crook put up corn in her sunny Mississippi kitchen. In her later years, Mama Crook lived in a mobile home on Aunt Fran’s property, near to Memphis, Tenn.

Fran had a huge corn patch, and she’d come home from her job, drive her mower and trailer down to the patch and load it up with cobs. Mama Crook would see her coming from her window, and she’d come out and say, “Get me the sharp knife,” and they’d go to work. A sharp knife is as essential to this process as was the original seed and sunshine that grew this yellow delicacy.

My mother gave us this ‘Ball Blue Book, a Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration,’ and it gets heavy use this time of year.

This is all hard and messy work, but it is made more pleasant by thinking about these memories I have of my kin doing the same thing I’m doing, for many decades. And then there is all that delicious creamed corn we will cook up all winter when we make soul food!

The last task for today was to make tomato and herb phyllo pizza. Tomorrow’s menu will be risotto stuffed tomatoes. Oh, and Jim will make his first batch of tomato juice to go with his dill pickles in Bloody Marys.

Yup, we are foodies.

Twenty-two bags and a spoon I’ve had all of my adult years.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 24

Three-quarter of an inch of rain in a wondrous thunderstorm this morning (Wednesday) started the day off right here at Red Oak House. For the second day in a row, it will be cool enough for us to leave the windows open all day.

Vegetable harvest has begun in earnest and Jim has frozen many bags already.

Last night, we had what we call “nothing from the store supper.” The first new potatoes, beans, broccoli and walleye. Who needs a restaurant?

As you can see from the plate above, we’ve begun to eat our heirloom tomatoes. These are bloody butchers. The jungle promises much more tomato bliss to come.

Other blooming plants make our garden a real oasis of tranquility in the midst of a bustling city.

On a different note, this song I’ve been listening to on Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic is running through my head:


Everybody I talk to is ready to leave

With the light of the morning

They’ve seen the end coming down

Long enough to believe

That they’ve heard their last warning

Standing alone

Each has his own ticket in his hand

And as the evening descends

I sit thinking ’bout Everyman

Seems like I’ve always been

Looking for some other place

To get it together

Where with a few of my friends

I could give up the race

And maybe find something better

But all my fine dreams

Well thought out schemes

To gain the motherland

Have all eventually come down

To waiting for Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman

Make it on your own if you think you can

If you see somewhere to go I understand

Waiting here for Everyman

Don’t ask me if he’ll show, baby I don’t know

In different lighting, Wide Wide World daylily, shows off different hues so why not one more photo? It’s my blog after all.

Time for Manhattans in the shade of the front patio.  Cheers!

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Chicken With Tomatoes

Undoubtedly, many gardeners who grow tomatoes have more than they can handle — unless they do some canning.

Even those who put up whole tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa or the like might have their hands full if they were overzealous and plotted too many plants, especially this summer in which there have been ideal growing conditions for those who have kept blight at bay.

So, with that in mind, here’s a recipe that will lessen the burden. It comes from The New York Times’s archives and is authored by the 60 Minute Gourmet himself, the late Pierre Franey.

I was a big fan of Franey’s column while serving as the food copy editor and later food editor at the Grand Forks Herald in the 1990s. Franey, along with the Times’ Craig Claiborne, served up some tasty dishes that eventually found their way to my dining room table. The recipes were easy, quick and inexpensive, all very important to me at the time.

The only improvisation I’ve made to the latest edition of this dish is to substitute pheasant breasts for chicken breasts.

Now, if I could find about a dozen more good tomato recipes. Readers?

Chicken With Tomatoes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 2¼ pounds
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoon dried
8 ripe plum tomatoes cut into small cubes (or one 28-ounce can of tomatoes, drained and chopped)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup drained capers
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottom skillet. Add the chicken breasts and saute over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the shallots and garlic around the chicken. Cook briefly; add the tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, wine and tomato paste. Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.
Blend well; bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 9 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Tomatoes And Blight

Despite the prediction this summer would be hot and dry, the opposite was the case, which didn’t bode well for some gardeners who raise tomatoes.

Early summer rains coupled with damp, cloudy weather conditions severely damaged this season’s crop. If your tomatoes were in a dry spot with lots of sunshine, you probably fared better.

According to the Minnesota Extension Service, the most common problem was blight. There are several types of blight, with septoria being the most common.

Septoria causes small, dark spots on leaves. Then, the leaves turn yellow and fall off. It usually starts at the bottom of the plant and works its way upward.

Wet and humid conditions like the kind we’ve been experiencing this summer hasten blight’s development. While you can’t deal with Mother Nature in terms of weather conditions, you can avoid overhead watering.

This disease usually does not cause damage to the fruit, but if the plant loses too many leaves, it can’t supply food to its many tomatoes.

So, we end up with two situations. If conditions have been good, you will end up with a good to bumper crop. If you have a bad blight year, you may have fewer or no tomatoes.

Besides septoria, gardeners also have had to deal with fewer cases of late or early blight. They cause larger spots to develop on leaf steams and fruit.

Protective fungicides containing Daconil can help to control blight. It must be applied at the first sign of the disease — or it will be too late.

Bacterial spot and bacterial speck have also struck tomato plants this summer. Small dark spots form on the fruit and leaves. Unlike the fungal diseases, fungicides will not control bacterial diseases.

In the case of heavy rain, tomatoes may crack. There is no remedy for this.

Here are some tips on how to deal with blight that you can file away for next season.

  • Mulch around plants early to delay onset of the disease. However, once disease is spotted, don’t bother to continue mulching.
  • Space plants a good distance apart, allowing good air circulation.
  • Staking tomato plants or encasing them with cages also helps. Purchase heavy-duty tomato cages as they will have to deal with lots of weight.
  • Don’t allow tomatoes to sit on the ground, since they will be prone to rot as well as attack from slugs.
  • Clear away plants in the fall.
  • When purchasing tomato seedlings, check to see if they are blight resistant.

Good luck!