August 22, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

A La Grande public librarian has a less-well-known, identity jam-maker extraordinaire.

Give Cathy Crapo the produce of the land and neighbors fruit trees, and she makes jams and jellies. Leftovers work just fine, too.

That was the case back in July when Crapo found that the leftovers in her freezer, juices and fruit, worked out to just enough ingredients for a few more jars of conserves a fruit spread with raisins and walnuts in it.

She mixed them up, sealed the lid, and not long after decided to enter one of the jars of conserves in the Union County Fair, Aug. 1-4.

She had started entering the county fair several years after moving to La Grande and starting to put up preserves about 17 years ago.

I probably started because I had fruit trees. I made it for home use, and I have no idea when I started entering the fair, Crapo said.

Shes had some success over the years. Last year, her jam won best in show, and one year she earned the Bell award for her canned asparagus.

Its really fun, especially to see that big ribbon (for champion) on top of the blue, Crapo smiles.

But she admits she never really thought beyond the county fair. It just didnt cross her mind there was another venue to compete in.

And then this year the county fair staff left a message on her answering machine. One of her entries had won the Best of County contest. Would she like to enter it in the Oregon State Fairs Best of Oregon contest?

Crapo wasnt sure which entry had won until the end of the day.

I was shocked, she says. She thought it had to be either her mint jelly or a jar of raspberry-rhubarb jelly. Her husband was thinking the mint jelly or the apricot-based conserve.

He was right; the conserve had won.

But Crapo was in a momentary bind.

Shed only made three jars, total, of the conserve. And she hadnt used a recipe. She left it up to the women at the county fair to decide which of the two remaining jars to send to the State Fair.

I had to sit and think of what Id put in it, she remembers. I really had to sit and think about it.

Apricots, which served as her base, were added to golden raisins, walnuts, pineapple and more. I had just added a cup of this and that, she shrugs.

Once the fruit was mixed, she measured it to calculate how much sugar she needed.

And that was the countys best this year.

State Fair judges have been evaluating recipes from across the state this week. Their decisions go on display today as the State Fair in Salem opens its 12-day run.

And Crapos jar of conserves will be there, on display in the Jackman-Long building with the other entries in the home economics category.

Crapos entry fits with one of her basic philosophies that helped her get started at the county fair: One year I said Id do something different; I started entering things I didnt normally do.

With thoughts of her own success in mind, Crapo the librarian did something else this summer she ordered the book Blue Ribbon Preserves for the La Grande Public Library.

And no, her recipe isnt in it.