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Michael Rustad's Memories

The Scarcity of Fresh Fruit


One of my summer rituals was to go june-berry picking withmy Aunt Dorothy Turner and my Grandparents. June-berries were quite sweetbut were rarely as plump as cultivated blue-berries. One of the challengesto june-berry hunting was not to get eaten alive by the mosquitos and bugsin late June and early July. We would collect the berries in metal pails. We would frequently collect 20 or more quarts in years that the berrieswere found in profusion. The june berries were mostly canned for the wintermonths when fresh fruit was rare. The june berries were made into a terrificjelly that was piled high on the delicious home made whole-wheat bread whichmy grandparents baked.

The Red River Valley was well known for its high proteindurum wheat. The land was extremely inhospital to fruit trees. The onlyfruit trees I remember were crab apples. We had a large crab apple treein the back yard of our farm and we would collect the apples for home-madecrab apple jelly and sauce. The apples were too tart to enjoy as eatingapples.

When I see the wonderful apple trees of Vermont, I realizenow that we were very short-changed when it came to fruit. We had an abundanceof great vegetables. Minnesota tomatoes and corn are as delicious as anythat I have sampled in the world. Asparagus also grew in abundance. InNew England, asparagus is sold for a princely sum. I grew very tired ofeven the most tender shoots of asparagus because we had such an abundance. I was also amazed when I lived in Europe to see asparagus regarded as adelicacy.

Rhubarb also grew in abundance in the gardens of NorthwestMinnesota. My Mother was a superb baker and her rhubarb pies were exquisite. She would always prepare rhubarb tarts without sugar for my GrandfatherRustad who was diabectic after age 60. Grandpa was very appreciative ofmy mother's fruit pies of all kinds which she adapted to his diet.

I should mention that my Grandparents always had freshgrapefruit in the Winter because my Grandmother Peterson Rustad had a brotherand sister in Florida. Bill Petersen and his sister Sorina sent box afterbox of fresh fruit to those stranded in the coldest region of North Americaother than the Yukon. I can still remember my Grandparents' typical breakfastof freshly baked bread with strawberry jam from Emerson, Manitoba, grapefruit,poached eggs, oatmeal, and sometimes stewed prunes. It was amazing howfortified you were after a breakfast at my Grandparents.

Mayme Jury's General Store did not have excellent fruitexcept for bananas. I can remember that the pineapples frequently did notsell.

Northwest Minnesotans did not know about exotic fruit suchas mangoes, kiwi, or passion fruit. I never saw a real coconut and honestlybelieved that it was cultivated in a shredded form. Fruits and vegetableswere frequently kept in the basement. The carrots were kept in sand whichprevented them from deteriorarating. Our apples were miserable comparedto Vermont's McIntosh apples. We would only occasionally see an apple fromWashington State which are misnamed as delicious. Washington Apples werehowever, much superior to the miserable apples grown in Minnesota.

I also cannot remember growing melons of any kind. Ourrelatives would always bring a huge assortment of muskmelons and watermelonson their trip north from Florida. One of my childhood memories was thefamily gathering to meet our Florida relatives for a watermelon feast! My elderly relatives would frequently remember the kids with some gorgeousseashells from the Gulf Shore of Florida. They gave some huge scallop shellsand many other counch shells that had the roar of the ocean. The firsttime that I heard that roar of the ocean from the shell, I vowed to leaveland-bound Minnesota

I would be remiss in mentioning some of the ground berriesthat were grown in Minnesota and some of the very sour plums that couldbe found. The tart fruit grown in Minnesota was emblematic of the verydifficult climate that had to be endured. Still, I have many sweet memoriesof the tart fruit grown in Minnesota.

ruit grown in Minnesota.