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The gospel of aronia

By Staff | Mar 14, 2014

MARY LUKEN, left, and her neighbor, Pat Benton, get ready for their sampling of the aronia berry smoothie prepared for Luken’s March 8 taste-testing event.

AKRON – Mary Luken said she’s one to often look for ways to make an extraordinary experience out of the ordinary.

“I began thinking about the recipes (people) might be interested in,” she said, “and what I could do to make them more interesting and easy to prepare.”

The Lukens planted hundreds of aronia bushes along side the apple trees in the farm’s Blue Bird Orchard.

“Considering it likely a lot of people haven’t become accustomed to using aronia berries,” Luken said, “I had the opportunity to help people add variety to recipes and at the same time do something different.”

Aronias are sometimes referred to as a chokeberry due to its tart taste, Luken said. It continues to gain in popularity as a fruit with antioxidant properties twice of cranberries and four times that in pomegranates, strawberries, goji berries and blueberries.

ALSO ON LUKEN’S menu at the party was the aronia berry salsa prepared by Pat Benton, a neighbor and fellow aronia berry grower.

A U.S. National Library of Medicine study scored the dark purple berry with high marks for its value in helping overcome “oxidative stress diseases” in some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation and liver function.

Luken launched into a monologue she said she’s given to customers at Akron’s farmers markets.

“I suggest to everyone they keep (the aronias) in the freezer and remove as needed,” she said.

The most common uses, she said, include eating them fresh by themselves or as a fruit added to yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, cold cereal, pancake batter, muffins, apple sauce, apple pie or apple crisp.

The first of several guests Luken invited for a taste-testing party was neighbor Pat Benton, who uses aronias in her kitchen. She was followed by Chase Hoffman and Jacob Bergman, both Akron-Westfield High School seniors, who work in Luken’s Blue Bird Orchard and berry patch.

ANOTHER OF BENTON’S contributed aronia berry treats was this aronia-jalapeno jelly being spread over cream cheese as a tasting party appetizer.

Bergman said he and Hoffman were introduced to aronia berry smoothies during work breaks at the farm.

“We’ve made them before, for members of our football team,” Bergman said. “It was fun – even if we did break the blender in the process.”

Benton provided jars of homemade aronia berry salsa and aronia berry-jalapeno jelly. The jelly was spread on crackers, and the salsa was poured into a bowl.

Luken dished up the dessert – aronia berry applesauce; from the oven came the hot dish – ham balls, sans aronia.

The recipe, she said, “was given to me by a friend of my mother’s. It’s been a favorite of our children and grandchildren.

MARY LUKEN, who said she enjoyed cooking as a youngster, dishes out apple-aronia crisp, the dessert at a tasting party.

“I’ve also learned if you know how to make the ham balls you never have to take anything else to the church potluck. They’re something everybody likes.”

Luken said her mother didn’t enjoy cooking. Sunday dinners after church were eaten out, she said, “and the rest of the day we were on our own.

“I was an only child and Mother was happy to let me play in the kitchen. All I wanted to do was cook, and she’d let me make all kinds of things for instance, chocolate pudding, before the box kind, that would boil over on the stove and burn the bottom of the pan.

As a teenager, Luken most often served up such meals as tomato soup and grilled cheese.

She eventually came across a Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book that she still consults. Its worn pages showing years of long-time use.

“I’d say this cookbook is what actually taught me the basics of how to cook since then,” she said.

Luken said her enthusiasm for being in the kitchen was passed onto her children, Helen and Rustin, who live in Colorado; along with four granddaughters.

“The girls like to set the table when they come to visit,” Luken said, “and help in the kitchen.

“The first thing we do in the morning is to make a grocery list for the day and go to (a local grocery store) after breakfast to get what we need.

“They like to help me fix the meal. I enjoy having them do this and feel if they have ownership in what they’ve made they’re going to like eating it.”

Aronia berry smoothie

(Serves two)

1/2 very ripe frozen banana

2 cups orange juice

1/4 cup aronia berries (can add a spoonful or two of fruit jam.)

Blend.

Apple-aronia sauce

8 cups chopped apples, (peel may be left if preferred)

4 tablespoons of frozen, condensed orange juice

1 cup water

1/2 to 1 cup sugar (or per taste)

Bring above to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Add 1 cup aronia berries and simmer 1/2 hour or until sauce is done.

Apple-aronia crisp

(Can also prepare with peach sauce)

Put 6 cups sliced apples into a 9-by-12-inch baking dish.

Add1/2 cup orange juice and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of aronia berries.

Mix in separate bowl:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup butter (softened, not melted)

3/4 cup flour

When crumbly, add 1/2 to 1 cup oatmeal and sprinkle over top of apples.

Pour mixture over apples.

Bake 35 minutes in 375-degree over.

Serve as is, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Mary’s ham ball favorite

3 pounds ground pork

2 pounds ground ham

4 beaten eggs

1 cup milk

4 cups bread crumbs

Beat eggs. Add milk and stir. Add bread crumbs and let sit a minute or two.

Add meat, mixing well. Make into golf ball-size rounds placing them side-by-side in baking dish.

Bake uncovered for 1/2 hour in 325-degree oven.

Prepare ham ball sauce mixing 1 cup vinegar, 3 cups brown sugar, 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons dried mustard.

Cook over low heat until vinegar and sugar are dissolved. Do not boil.

Pour sauce over ham balls and bake an additional 1/2 hour.

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