Category Archives: garden

Canning Summer: Raspberry Rhubarb Jam

Black Raspberry Bush at This American House

One of the absolute joys of summer – even a summer that’s been disrupted by a global pandemic and crazy politics – is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. A previous owner planted black raspberry bushes on the far side of the new garage at the Meier House. For the first few years of our ownership, we let these raspberry bushes go wild. And then every summer we’d pick a few raspberries and promise ourselves that one day we’d tame the bushes and get a proper harvest. Well, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and having a little more time on our hands, we’re finally keeping that promise.

Early this spring, when the raspberry bushes were just starting to sprout leaves, I donned my trusty garden gloves and grabbed the garden clippers, some twine and three long metal poles. I pushed the poles into the soil, one at each end of the bushes and one in the middle, and used them to string twine across the length of the bushes. I pruned the bushes and then used more twine to secure branches and try to create some order to the twisted vines. I had no idea whether this would provide a better raspberry harvest later in the summer, but it certainly made it easier to mow around the bushes.

Fresh raspberries floating in a bowl

Oh boy did it make a difference! Every day over the past two weeks we’ve been harvesting bowls full of the delicious little berries. At first we were eating them as fast as we could pick them. Raspberries in yogurt, raspberries smashed on toast, raspberries by the handful…! Raspberries!

After getting our fill of fresh berries, it was time to preserve. I considered freezing them but we wanted something that would last a little longer. You know, something that we could pop open on a winter day to get a little taste of summer. We bake a lot of breads, biscuits and muffins during the winter months so the answer seemed obvious – jam! And since we also have an abundance of rhubarb, I decided to combine two summer treats into one delicious jam.

We spent a Saturday afternoon making a raspberry rhubarb jam that will deliver a delicious taste of summer to those cold winter months. And, really, once you make homemade jam, you’ll never want to buy it again. Not only is homemade easy, it’s free of preservatives and oh so delicious. It’s really just a few simple ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin and time.

Basically, all cooked jams are the same recipe:

Ingredients:
5 cups prepared fruit – in this case I used a mix of raspberries and rhubarb
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine
7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

Directions:
Mash the berries, chop the rhubarb and then combine. Add the fruit and pectin to a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once the fruit mixture comes to a rolling boil, stir in all 7 cups of sugar. Continue cooking over high heat until it returns to full rolling boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off any foam with a metal spoon and wham bam thank you jam!

Now that you have jam, it’s time to can. Place your jam in warm sterilized canning jars, place lids and caps on top and then process in a hot water canner to enjoy that summer feeling all year long. You’ll find instructions for canning on the Ball/Kerr website.

Jam on, friends!

Get the Garden Growing: Memorial Day 2019

gardening at an American System-Built

It has become somewhat of a tradition that we plant our garden over Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day the unofficial kickoff to summer and the first long weekend of the year, it’s also when it’s finally warm enough here in the upper Midwest to put plants in the ground without fear of a final frost.

We had never really intended to garden. While we both love food and frequently shop farmers markets for fresh, local produce, we’ve always seen our thumbs as more black than green. Judging by our record with houseplants, we’d be sentenced to life in prison for the neglectful death and overwatering of many a poor, unsuspecting little life. Still, former owners had a garden already plotted out and that first spring we put in a few plants as an experiment. By midsummer we were feasting on lettuces and green beans and vine ripened tomatoes. And let me tell you: after you’ve eaten a tomato fresh from the vine, you’ll never touch a mealy, tasteless tomato from the grocery store again. We’ve been putting out gardens ever since.

There seems to be something magical in this Iowa soil that makes our gardens successful. No matter what we’ve planted in the garden, it matures and produces fruits or vegetables. The only thing we’ve had difficulty growing is green beans. That failure has nothing to do with the soil, mind you. We did get a healthy harvest of green beans during our first summer of gardening. Every summer since then, however, the green bean plants are attacked by rabbits before they ever get a chance to grow. As soon as the bean seeds sprout and break ground, the rabbits come along and eat the leaves. The poor little plants never have a chance to produce a single bean.

There are some other plants that we’ve learned not to repeat. Brussels sprouts are easy, but it takes too long between planting and harvest and the plants take up too much space in the meantime. The same goes for broccoli. We’ll just stick to getting those vegetables from the grocery store.

Last year was the first garden that had a singular purpose: salsa. We planted more tomato and pepper plants that we thought necessary and ended up with crop upon crop of salsa ingredients. We froze dozens of containers of salsa and canned dozens more in jars. We’re still eating last year’s canned salsa!

And so we’re repeating that plan this year. We got the tomatoes and onions in the ground this weekend but forgot to pick up pepper plants when we were at the greenhouse. We also got a few kale plants in the ground because you gotta love those leafy greens!

Our garden definitely won’t win any prizes. We tend to take a rather haphazard approach to the task. And since we can be away for weeklong stretches, the weeds tend to get away from us, making it difficult to discern between invasive plants and something that will actually produce edibles. We’re trying to keep things as simple and organic as possible so we’re not spraying the garden with weed treatment. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, we’ll always have a healthy harvest of dandelions!

Beautiful or not, gardening has become a seasonal treat that we both savor. After a week in the city sitting behind desks or countless hours stuck in traffic, there’s no better treat than crouching in the garden with the moos of cows carrying across the distance as we pull weeds or clip kale leaves for lunch.

What are you planning for your garden this year?

 

 

Original Elements: The Carriage House & the Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper growing over the slate roof of an old garageWith all the changes that have been made to the Meier House in its 100+ year history, we cherish the features that are original to its construction. We do our best to restore and maintain the entire house, but we give special attention to extant original elements. One of those original features is also the largest: the carriage house. Well, that’s what we call it. It’s actually the garage that was built when the house was constructed in 1917. It was built for an automobile so it never really housed a carriage per se. Still, this vine covered little structure begs to be called carriage house, doesn’t it? Continue reading

3 Ways to Use Green Tomatoes

3 Green Tomato Recipes on This American House

Every gardener who grows tomatoes ends up with an abundance of green fruit at some point. Whether it’s accidentally knocking the unripened fruit from the plants while pruning throughout the season (as I did earlier this summer) or plucking the last green tomatoes off the vine before the first frost (which I did just this weekend), we often find ourselves searching for uses other than fried green tomatoes. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I found three other uses for green tomatoes. And they’re all delicious.

Continue reading

So Long Shrubs & Hello Clean Lines

Landscaping Update: Goodbye ShrubsThere are about a dozen projects inside the house that should be getting our attention. Half of those – like the fireplace and bathroom – were started over the winter and left mid-project. I said I’d come back to them when it warmed up and I could work with the windows open. Instead, we’ve spent most of the summer working on exterior projects. This is the upper Midwest, after all. We spend roughly six months of the year hunkered indoors, shivering and stuffing our faces full of baked goods to survive the darkness and cold. Once nice weather hits, we want to spend all of our free time outdoors.

Fortunately, there’s always gardening and landscaping to be done. Which means that we can be outdoors while also advancing the goal of transforming the house. This weekend, in addition to weeding the garden, which seems to be a never ending job, we finally cleaned up the south side of the house.

shrubs06We’ve been planning to remove these shrubs from day one. With this big, boxy house and its decorative trim, the tall, floppy shrubs felt too fussy. And this became even more apparent when we put the geraniums in the window box. No, this house should not be surrounded by commanding shrubbery. The house should shoot straight up from the ground, the trim and window box unimpeded. Besides, we recently learned that having tall shrubs close to the house has contributed to the deterioration of the wood trim and stucco at the base of the house. That was all the confirmation we needed!

shrubs04

The four evergreen bushes came out easier than I expected. First, I used a saw to cut of the branches big branches off and then I cut them down to a stump.  If I had thought of it, I would have waited until fall to cut down the shrubs. The branches would make beautiful arrangements for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, they’re going to make a wonderful bonfire.

After they were cut down, I dug up the roots. OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve only dug up one bush’s roots. Digging up the roots is the hard part, of course. Not helped by the rocks that were used as ground covering on this side of the house. Besides, once the bushes were out, it was obvious that the hostas in front of the window box also needed to be transplanted elsewhere. So I abandoned the stumps and dug up the hostas.

shrubs09

(Don’t worry – this will not be another project left half-finished. The rests of the stumps are coming out this weekend and mulch will be going down until we decide which plants we want to use as ground covering.)

shrubs07

Yes, the house looks quite bare in the after photo. In fact, I probably shouldn’t call it an after photo at all. It’s really an in-progress photo. We will plant something on this side of the house – it will just be low and will probably have some white in it.  For now, we’re happy to let the house breathe a bit. You can probably see how the paint on the lower trim has flaked off in large patches. It looks like we’re putting off our plans to have all the trim repainted in a new color for the second summer in a row. However, we are going to take this opportunity to try to repaint the lower trim with color-matched paint. Having pulled out the shrubs, patching the lower trim will now be an easier job.