Beatrice Ojakangas: Taste a little bit of summer cooking with preserved food

My grandma put it all in jars.”

So the song goes, sung by Greg Brown on “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Last summer, people were gardening more than ever, and garden produce had to be canned or frozen. That meant that many of us started canning and freezing food again. Now that we’re homebound, we’ve been cooking more than ever, and lucky is the cook who has a stash of canned or frozen vegetables waiting to be enjoyed. This is leading to healthier meals — we hope.

I remember my mother talking about how the root cellar had been loaded with potatoes, carrots, rutabagas and even loaves of baked bread before the infamous 1918 forest fire decimated their farm near Brookston. The Spanish flu pandemic was upon them (the flu that took the life of my grandmother). Preparations had been limited to what they could can, dry or store in the cool bins of their underground storage. Unfortunately, the fire collapsed the root cellar, but luckily the wind turned, and the house was spared.

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Canning was still the norm when I was growing up in Floodwood. All the overproduction from the garden went into jars that sustained us throughout the winter. That was just normal living.

One of our favorite foods was wild berries. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries were the basis of our favorite desserts. I think everybody in the family remembers “Mummy’s Raspberry Sauce,” which was always on our holiday table, served in a big, glass punch bowl with whipped cream to top it off.

This was my dad’s favorite dessert. A family story goes like this: Mom would ask my dad, “What would you like for dessert — chocolate cake, apple pie or sauce?” The answer always was, “raspberry sauce” or whatever “sauce” she had prepared. She didn’t have a chocolate cake or apple pie, anyway.

“Sauce” to us wasn’t a condiment to spoon over something; it was more of a dessert fruit soup that we always enjoyed with cream either poured over, or on special occasions was served with whipped cream. Other than berries, we canned rhubarb, tomatoes, green beans, peas, apples, pears, peaches, plums and other fruits that we bought by the lug from farmers who hauled their produce north at the end of the summer. Root vegetables were stored in the root cellar.

Whether or not you have home-canned fruits and vegetables, these recipes will work. Many of us have had to rely on supermarket canned goods. Either way, there’s a certain amount of freedom in having a pantry full of canned goods.

Mom's Raspberry Sauce (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Mom’s Raspberry Sauce (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


In Finland, this dessert is called a “Kiisseli,” but we always called it a “sauce.” We made it with any number of different berries, even berry juice. Our favorite was raspberry sauce. This was the dessert Mom made for Christmas Eve. However, our father preferred this dessert all year round! Of course, you could make this sauce with almost any other favorite berry, such as strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries or blackberries.

4 cups water

3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch

Cream, plain or whipped for serving

In a large saucepan, combine the water and berries. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to break up fruit if it is frozen. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch or potato starch. Slowly add the mixture to the boiling fruit mixture while whisking vigorously. Stir and cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. If undercooked, the mixture may break down and become thin after cooling. Serve hot or cold. To serve, top with either whipped or plain cream. Makes 8 servings

Three-ingredient Tomato Soup (pictured served alongside Corn Chowder) (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Three-ingredient Tomato Soup (pictured served alongside Corn Chowder) (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


With much of the vegetable and fruit preparation already done, cooking in the winter months was simpler. We could make easy and delicious soups in just a few minutes. Like this simple three-ingredient tomato soup.

2-3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, quartered

1 quart jar home canned tomatoes or one large (40 oz.) can whole tomatoes, including juices.

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan Add the onion and stir over medium heat just until softened, about 5 minutes. Open the jar or can of tomatoes and pour into a saucepan. Break the tomatoes up with a spoon. Simmer for 10 minutes, then pour the tomatoes and onion mixture into a blender. Blend until smooth. Add salt to taste if needed. Makes about 4 servings.

Tomato and Potato Gratin (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Tomato and Potato Gratin (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


Of course, when tomatoes are in season, I use fresh ones, but for in this casserole in the winter, I use those that I have canned because they have more flavor than the hothouse tomatoes from the market.

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

2 small sweet onions, thinly sliced crosswise

1 cup diced and drained fresh or canned tomatoes

½ to ¾ teaspoon salt, divided

¼ teaspoon rosemary, crushed, divided

¼ teaspoon dried thyme, divided

¼ teaspoon pepper, divided

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1½ pounds baking potatoes (Russets), peeled and cut into ⅛ inch slices

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Coat a shallow casserole dish or pie pan with nonstick spray.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until aromatic about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the tomatoes, including juices. Mix the salt with the rosemary, thyme and pepper and add half of the mixture to the tomatoes. Mix the remaining seasonings with the Parmesan cheese.

Spread out half the tomato-and-onion mixture in the prepared casserole dish and layer half the potatoes on top. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan mixture. Repeat the layers with the remaining tomatoes and onions and Parmesan mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, just until the potatoes are tender. Makes 4 servings.

Corn Chowder (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Corn Chowder (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


A bowl of hot soup and a loaf of freshly baked bread is a perfect country-style supper. Add any other canned veggies you might have on hand, such as peas or green beans.

1 large onion, chopped

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

Water to cover

2 cups whole kernel corn, one (15 oz.) can or 2 cups frozen, thawed corn

One (12-ounce) can evaporated milk, undiluted

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-size saucepan, cook the onion and potatoes in water to cover until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. Add corn (and any other canned veggies you’d like) along with the evaporated milk. Heat through. Stir in the butter, taste and add salt and pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Veiled Country Lass (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Veiled Country Lass (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


This is a classic Norwegian dessert made basically with applesauce layered with toasted bread crumbs. Cinnamon and ground hazelnuts add more flavor and texture to the dessert. I enjoyed this dessert in Norway. It was presented in a footed glass bowl on a buffet; however, you can present the dessert nicely in individual tumblers.

2 cups fine, dry breadcrumbs, preferably rye crumbs

4 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

½ stick butter, melted

2 cups chilled applesauce, preferably homemade

2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped

½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or pecans

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, combine the bread crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Stir over medium heat until the crumbs are uniformly golden and aromatic. Remove from the heat and cool.

Layer the applesauce, toasted crumbs and cream in a serving bowl or in individual bowls. There should be at least two layers of each. The top layer should always be whipped cream — the “veiling” on the dish. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Makes 6 servings.

Fruit Crisp (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)

Fruit Crisp (Susanna Ojakangas / For the News Tribune)


Use canned pears or peaches in this basic recipe. Pears are especially delicious if you sprinkle them with a tablespoon of minced crystallized ginger. Peaches are delicious with toasted slivered almonds sprinkled over the top.

Two (16-ounce) cans sliced or halved pears or peaches in heavy syrup, drained

1 tablespoon crystallized ginger (for pears) or toasted slivered almonds (for peaches)


⅔ cup old-fashioned uncooked rolled oats

⅓ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon ground ginger (for pears) or ground cinnamon (for peaches)

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

For serving: vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1½ quart baking dish, arrange the pears or peaches in the dish and sprinkle with the ginger or the slivered almonds.

For the topping, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour and ginger or cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake until the topping is lightly browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Makes 6 servings.

Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)

Beatrice Ojakangas (News Tribune photo)

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at

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