Archive for September, 2009

Zonker Goes All Garden

I have about four comic strips that I have to check in on nearly every day: For Better or Worse (yes, I’m one of those saps who teared up when Farley, the dog, died); Luann, Crankshaft (the recent bit where the parents take their daughter to college was a hoot), and Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. It is rare that you get garden information from a comic, but Zonker, the loveable stoner/deadbeat from Doonesbury, has taken up gardening. In recent strips, he’s been talking to his bulbs, pecking at the earth with a trowel, and salivating over the garden catalogs. Gardeners: We have arrived.


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IMG_6694I have to admit that I feel like I have finally escaped after processing about 20 pounds of grapes from my neighbor’s vines. My neighbors were not able to do the harvest themselves this year, and I asked if I could step in, having enjoyed some of their fabulous grape jam last year. With their permission, I harvested about 20 pounds of grapes, about half of the Swenson and Concord grapes they have on the vines.

Harvesting grapes is a snap. Take a scissors with you and just snip the bunches off the vines. Then, clean the grapes, and start processing. That’s where the work gets more cumbersome. I made three kinds of grape preserves with the fruit. The first is a recipe taken from Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet for grape conserve. To make it, you have to skin the grapes, which sounds difficult, but actually involves only a tiny squeeze on the grape so the innards pop out.  However, it takes a lot of grapes to make even a few jars of conserve and, as Brody notes in her recipe, it’s a lot more fun with a group of people. My 17-year-old helped for awhile, but mostly I soldiered on through the grapes alone.

After that, I still had buckets of grapes left, so I cleaned what I had and dumped all the grapes in a big pot to loosen the skins and seeds. After about 15 minutes of cooking, I ran the mixture through a food mill and ended up with a thick, tart grape juice. (And, a pile of seeds and gunk, which went into the compost pile.) The next day, I took some of the juice, strained it again, and used 5 cups of juice for a traditional jelly recipe. The recipe is in any box of Sure-Jell pectin. While it’s a pretty sugary jelly, the fresh, tart grapes give it a bite that you don’t get from store-bought jelly.

The Final Product

The Final Product

I still had more juice, so the next day, I made an old-fashioned grape marmalade. This is a variation on a recipe I found on the web from an old — like 1800s — cookbook. I took 6 cups thick grape juice, 3 oranges (zested, peeled, and chopped), 3 cups of stewed apples (I’d recommend local Haralson apples microwaved about 5 minutes with some apple cider or water), and one cinnamon stick.  Bring this mixture to a boil and add 1.75 pounds of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and let it cook for a good half hour — maybe more. While it’s cooking, bring the hot water bath to a boil and clean and sterilize your canning jars and tops. (For instructions on canning, see the U of M’s site.) Then, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour the marmalade in the jars. I processed the jars 10 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal them up, though the original recipe recommends that cooks put paper over the jam and it will “keep for years.” I’m a little doubtful these grape delights will last that long here.

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September Garden

IMG_6673While many gardens fade after mid-August, mine often looks better in September than it does at other times of the year. It’s not something I’ve planned, but a happy accident of having a few fall bloomers, annuals that don’t take off in Minnesota until mid to late summer, and early bloomers that make an encore appearance in September. This clematis bloom, for instance, was a complete surprise. I bought this ‘Bee’s Jubilee’ clematis at Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault way back in May. Since it was its first year in the ground, I did not expect blooms at all. But yesterday while out picking my ga-zillionth raspberry, I noticed it, peeking around the pergola. It’s very pale and pretty and I’m looking forward to seeing more next year.

IMG_6682In addition to the surprise clematis, I’ve getting another flush of bloom on my roses out front (this grasshopper posed nicely on a bloom, though grasshoppers are not my favorite part of September), some daylilies are putting on a last show, a few Goldmound spirea are sprouting their second round of blooms, buckets of zinnias and cosmos are still looking good, and that’s in addition to all the lovely fall plants such as Autumn Joy sedum, black-eyed Susan, and a gorgeous Joe Pye weed that is attracting bees from all over town to my meadow area.

That’s not to say some areas are not looking a little — umm, let’s say, tattered. The beautiful hollyhocks from early this summer are faded, ratty and begging to be cut down (it’s on the weekend chore list), and some tall rudbeckias I planted last fall are in deep lean mode now. And, of course, the Grandpa Ott’s morning glories have taken over big swaths of one bed (pulling those before they seed is another job on the weekend list). I just heard an unofficial weather report that the warmth of the past week will not last much longer, so now is a good time to get out and appreciate the garden’s last blast of beauty.

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IMG_6663The berries just keep on coming! Friday, my husband and I picked about 20 cups of raspberries from the canes in our backyard. That’s on top of several cups each of the past few days, some of which we’ve munched and some we’ve given to others. A basket sent to my mother led to a new recipe for using raspberries: Raspberry Syrup.

Here’s the method: Take about 3 cups of cleaned berries and put them in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, mashing the berries as you go. Once the mixture is boiling hard, let it cook for three minutes. While the mixture cooks, set up your straining operation. I used a colander lined with cheese cloth set over another saucepan. After the mixture has boiled, pour the syrup through the strainer. Gently push on it to extract as much juice as possible — this may take an hour or more to get all the goodness out — while leaving behind the seeds.  The resulting liquid may be thin, so put it on the heat again and let some of the water boil away. But don’t go too long or you will end up with raspberry jelly (which is not all bad). The syrup would be wonderful on pancakes, but I couldn’t wait and served it up over some ice cream.

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Magnificent Mum

IMG_6636IMG_4890Way back in May, I posted about a Mammoth™ mum I bought, then neglected for several weeks. (See sad photo at right.) Well, look at that baby now! While it’s not as large as it will be in a two or three years — Mammoth mums top out at 5 feet across and 3 feet tall — it’s a striking element in one of the backyard beds, with pink Clara Curtis daisies behind it and the pointy flowers of Mexican hat threaded through its stems. It just goes to show how resilient plants are — I’m suddenly thinking of the line from Spamalot, “I’m not dead yet!” — and how if we give them just a chance, they will grow and be beautiful.

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Berries lined up and ready for freezing.

This is shaping up to be a fantastic season for fall raspberries. I was busy with a variety of work-related activities during the latter part of last week and, consequently, was away from my little raspberry patch for about four days. When I went out to pick today, the berries were literally dripping off the canes. I picked about 12 cups of berries in a half hour.

Raspberries this fresh are delicate, so I froze about 8 cups of the berries. This is an easy operation: Rinse the berries lightly in water to dislodge any little bugs or what-not that may be on them, let them sit on a towel to dry, then arrange them on a tray and pop it in the freezer. (I put a sheet of wax paper on the tray to make the removal of the frozen berries extra easy.) A few hours later, put the berries in plastic bags and stash them for some winter day when fresh raspberries are $5 a cup in the store or $4.59 for a 2-cup bag frozen.  At that point, you can feel frugal and proud.

IMG_6620With some of the remaining raspberries, I decided to make a raspberry fool. I was introduced to fool several years ago when traveling in England for about three weeks with our two girls, then ages 12 and 8. To save money and reduce restaurant time with kids, we ate at least one picnic a day — and these frequently featured the two English dishes my daughters loved best: Fruit fool (packaged in yogurt-like cups) and a pop called Tango. Since then, I’ve made fool whenever we have an abundance of some juicy fruit, such berries or peaches. You can find a variety of recipes in cookbooks and online, but here’s how I do it.

Raspberry Fool

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, crushed

1/2 cup sugar

Juice and some of the zest from 1 lemon

1 cup plain yogurt (your choice on fat level)

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Crush the berries. Then, add the sugar and lemon zest and juice and let it sit a few minutes to juice up. (With raspberries, you can strain the mixture to remove the seeds, if you’d like.) Once this is juicy, add the mixture to the yogurt and stir it until thoroughly combined. Whip the cream, and sweeten it, if you’d like. Gently fold the yogurt-berry mix into the cream. You can serve it with more berries or whatever garnish you’d like.

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State Fair Gardens 2009

IMG_6598I had a fun afternoon at the Minnesota State Fair Wednesday, where I worked at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society booth, selling memberships (a heckuva bargain at $55 with lots of perks and goodies) and visiting with fairgoers. The fair really is a great get-together. Not only did I talk with many readers of Northern Gardener — always a pleasure — I even reconnected with a fellow I knew back in college.

IMG_6586Despite its reputation as a fried-food fest, the fair is filled with opportunities to see things and learn. The Hort Society booth is just down the hall in the Agriculture/Horticulture building from the Master Gardeners, who answer questions about bugs, weeds, and any number of gardening problems. The building is also home to the large vegetable displays — check out some of those squash! — as well as flower displays and canning displays.

IMG_6571IMG_6581Outside the building are several State Fair gardens. The hort society garden is designed and maintained by volunteers — many thanks to Ron DuFour and the St. Anthony Park Garden Club who do the bulk of the work. I really liked these colorful tomato cages that Ron designed and built. Just around the building from the MSHS garden was the one sponsored by the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. It had a native plant theme and included some striking wildflowers, such as these woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) and the amazing hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’) above. This plant was about 6 feet across and covered with blooms and bees.

The fair continues through Monday. If you are planning to visit, be sure to check out the gardens on the fairgrounds and visit the MSHS booth and educational displays inside.

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