Category Archives: garden

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.

Green Tomato Dill Pickles at This American House

Green Tomato Dill Pickles: Last year I experimented with a simple pickled green tomato recipe that was easy but not very exciting. This year, I gave a batch of green tomatoes the full pickling treatment: vinegar, dill pickling spices and pickling salt. These tomatoes are the perfect burger topper. They have the punch of a dill pickle but with a meatier texture. And the larger sliced tomatoes fit perfectly on top of a patty of beef.

Green Tomato Beer Bread at The Delbert Meier House

Beer Bread with Chopped Green Tomatoes and Jalapenos: I took a basic beer bread recipe and added chopped green tomatoes and diced jalapeno peppers to the dough. This actually made use of THREE things we have an abundance of: old beer, green tomatoes and jalapenos fresh from the garden. The tomatoes and peppers added a nice kick to the dense beer bread. Even tastier with a slab of salted butter on top.

Green Tomato and Rhubarb Crunch at This American House

Green Tomato and Rhubarb Crunch: After reading that green tomatoes can be baked in a pie that’s similar to apple, I decided to mix them with some leftover rhubarb from the garden. But instead of pie, I went the much easier route: a crunch. My mother-in-law gifted me her little recipe box and one of my go-tos is her recipe for rhubarb crunch. It’s easy to prepare and it’s The Mister’s absolute favorite dessert. This recipe is very similar to Louise’s. And the green tomatoes really do taste like apples when baked into a dessert!

What’s your favorite green tomato recipe?

 

 

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.

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(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.

Kicking Off Summer at the Delbert Meier House

Kicking Off Summer at This American HouseIt was a long winter with a lot of long absences from the house so this Memorial Day weekend feels like quite a treat. Mother Nature gave us a couple of idyllic days filled with sunshine, warm breezes and bleeding hearts. There was a little rain as well but that just gave us an excuse to impose a day of inside projects.

bleeding hearts

These bleeding hearts are just about my favorite thing this year. At least, I think these are bleeding hearts. I had been calling them court jesters for their similarity to the hats worn from ye olde court jesters. But then The Mister had no idea what I was talking about when I was raving about the gorgeous court jesters in the yard.

Happy summer, folks!

UPDATE: Thanks to Cliff for emailing in with the identify of what we thought might be bleeding hearts. It turns out that we’re growing columbines in our backyard. These wildflowers are self propagating and bloom from late spring through early summer. Thanks for the note, Cliff!

Stand Back, Johnny Appleseed! Apples, Apples, Apples!

Apple Tree at the Delbert Meier House | This American House

It looks like my countless hours gazing longingly at the apple tree in the backyard, sending it good growing mojo, and dreaming of delicious baked goods paid off. We’ve hit the apple lotto, folks, and the payout is huge! I had no idea one tree could produce so many apples. Maybe it’s because the tree was never harvested last fall. Maybe it’s the little apple dance I did under the tree this spring. Or maybe we’re just lucky jerks who bought a house with a magic apple tree. Whatever the reason, we should be able to eat an apple a day for the next three years from the fruit of this one tree!

Apples, Apples, Apples! | This American HouseLet me tell you, the anticipation of testing the apples for tastiness was quite a burden. It kicked off this spring, when the tree filled with leaves and blooms.

“Do you think we’ll actually be able to eat them?” The Mister asked.

“I hope so. But I don’t know.” I said.

We watched as the buds turned into little green fruit. And as the apples grew and started to turn red I asked The Mister, “Do you think they’ll be edible?”

“Gee, I hope they are,” he replied.

This American House

Starting sometime in mid-July, our curiosity got the best of us. We plucked an apple off the tree and sliced into it. It wasn’t ripe (of course) but it looked like an apple and wasn’t full of worms so it seemed promising enough. Every few weeks we’d pluck another apple off the tree for another taste test. And each time we got more and more hopeful that the apples would indeed be tasty eventually.

Well, folks, it has finally happened. The apples have ripened and they are delicious! I mean, they’re no Honey Crisp apple. They’re more like a Red Delicious, which is probably what they really are. But they’re apples growing on a tree in our backyard!  And there are a ton of them!

This has to be a bushel of apples, right? | This American House

I don’t know how many apples make a bushel but I’m sure we’ve picked at least that many so far. In the past two weekends I have filled one giant IKEA bag and four reusable grocery bags with apples. I’ve given two bags of apples to neighbors and have a few more bags earmarked for friends back in the city. I plan to freeze some apples for winter baking but I’m actually going to keep most of them in the refrigerator. That’s the wonderful thing about apples — they keep for months when refrigerated.

I’ve also turned out two batches of apple butter recently. Both recipes used the crock pot, and let me tell you, nothing makes a house smell better than cooking apples! The first batch of apple butter, using a recipe from AllRecipes, was a little lackluster but we happily smeared it on toast anyway. For the second batch I used Brown Eyed Baker’s Slow Cooker Apple Butter recipe. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I want to eat this apple butter by the spoonful!

Stand back, Johnny Appleseed. There’s a new king of apples in town!

Images: This American House

 

Grow Your Own: 5 Lessons from Our First Garden

5 Lessons from Our First Garden | This American House

Now that the temperatures are starting to fall and most of the “crops” have been harvested, it seems like a good time to look back on the lessons learned from our first year gardening. For city boys I think we had a pretty respectable season. But there are plenty of ways we can improve for next year.

We kept it pretty simple for our first garden. Even though they’re not very aesthetically pleasing, we kept the raised beds and concrete blocks that the previous owners left behind. We were so overwhelmed with all of the other landscaping this spring that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start from scratch with the garden. We both hate those blocks with a passion but they did make it easier for two novices to feel like they know what they’re doing. That said, the blocks are coming up this year! We’re going to start fresh with one big garden plot next spring.

Speaking of next spring, it’s going to be a much different planting experience. This year we were faced a garden that had been unattended and hadn’t been cleaned out at the end of the season. It was covered in a mass of leaves, dead plants and weeds, weeds, weeds. We’re already prepping the garden the next year. We’ve started pulling plants out of the beds and, as we do, we’re also taking up all the concrete blocks. We kept up on the weeds this year and we’ve started putting organic matter on the entire garden plot. Here’s hoping that next year we have rich, healthy soil.Looking Back on Our First Garden | This American House

But enough about next year, let’s look at what learned this year.

Lesson #1: Better planning would help. We planted two beds of potatoes, one bed of onions, one bed of green beans, three tomato plants, a row of beets and some carrots. It was all very haphazard. I bought the seed potatoes and onions early in the season so they went into the ground first. And then as we would pick up other seeds and seedlings we’d fit them into one of the empty beds. Next year we should start earlier and really map out the garden – especially since we won’t have the raised beds.

Lesson #2: Sometimes weeds are actually plants. The carrots that I planted never made it to harvest. In fact, I’m not even sure they made it past seedling stage. Thanks to some overzealous weeding early in the summer, the carrots were pulled out and composted. Oops.

Lesson #3: Starting indoors might be easier. We wouldn’t have lost the carrots if I had started them indoors. Placing seedlings in the ground will make it easier to know which little sprouts are plants and which are weeds. Since I dumped the carrot seeds into a bed that was also very weedy, they were bound to be pulled up before they got a chance to grow.

Lesson #5: It’s easier than it seems. Even in our bungling way, and despite many weeks when the garden went completely unattended, we grew food. We definitely have a lot to learn but it’s good to know that it’s not all that difficult to garden. That said, I’m glad we don’t have to live solely on what we grow!

Lesson #5: The food you grow is the tastiest. I’ve never liked tomatoes. I mean, I don’t hate them but I’ll skip past tomatoes when I’m dressing a hamburger or whatever. But when it comes to the tomatoes that came out of our garden, I want to put them on everything! They’re that delicious! There’s something about growing your own food that makes it taste all the better.

We have a long way to go before we’re gentlemen farmers, but I think we’re well on our way. Happy harvesting, folks!

Images: This American House