Enjoying an old tradition that is new again - summer kitchens
Tuesday, October 02, 2012 4:16 AM
History often repeats itself and sometimes in very good ways. A necessity of the past has become a trend of the present - summer kitchens.
Sitting in the chair that many visitors find perfect for chatting, Steve enjoys a piece of homemade rocky road cake fresh from the oven in the summer kitchen.
The original purpose of a summer kitchen was to keep the heat of cooking and canning out of the main house. Summer kitchens were often separate buildings just beyond the main house. Sometimes they were also connected to the main house, but set in a way that the heat did not enter the main house.
The rebirth of this older tradition is growing as people embrace the past and realize how smart their ancestors were by keeping the heat out of their homes during the hot summer months.
Peggy and Steve Landsom of Spring Grove recently converted a backyard shed into a summer kitchen and are thoroughly enjoying it.
"Not only has it been great keeping the mess and heat of canning out of my main kitchen, I love the fact that people just stop by and chat when they see me working out here," commented Peggy.
"People just seem to feel more comfortable stopping in and visiting here than they would if they saw lights on in our house. This little place is just so cozy and welcoming - I love it!"
The shed the Landsoms remodeled has had many roles since they have owned their house.
The main house was built in 1918 by Baldwin and Martha Onsgard. The Landsoms are only the second owners of the property. They believe that this little building was originally built as a sleeping house - a cooler place to sleep in the summer with more windows and ventilation than the main house.
Peggy said that the Onsgards also enjoyed entertaining and this little building was also used for that, as there was a stone walkway that led from the main house right to it. There was also a brick barbecue nearby that they would have used to cook on during parties.
Before Landsoms purchased the house, it sat empty for about 15 years. A tree limb had gone through the little building's roof, so Steve repaired that and replaced the original wood floor, which was in poor shape, with a concrete floor.
The Landsoms have three grown children, and when they were at home, the building made a great storage shed for bikes, wagons and outdoor toys. It also was a favorite play place for the girls as they pretended to play "house."
The building grew with the kids and eventually housed a couch and TV and was the site of many sleepovers and gatherings of friends. Peggy and Steve had also used it some to play cards with friends.
When friends remodeled their home and had a propane range they didn't want, they asked if Peggy and Steve were interested in it; they said yes.
All the while ideas were swirling about in Steve's head about how it could be used in the little building. He told Peggy that he had an idea about hooking up the range in the little building and converting it to a summer kitchen so that she could do her canning out there, and he could make jerky without smelling up the whole house.
"I was so excited about the idea that I jumped on it and started planning," Peggy said with excitement.
"I have also been collecting antique decorations and thought this would be the perfect place to display them. Some were even Martha's (who originally built the house). It was just so much fun to make it all come together!"
They began the summer kitchen project by installing ceramic tile on the floor - tile that they found at Home Depot for a bargain price. They were able to do the entire floor for under $100.
They had purchased base cabinets on Craigslist for their rental houses and had extras that they were able to use in the summer kitchen.
They also purchased items from Habitat for Humanity's ReStore in La Crosse - they like the idea of re-using and repurposing items.
With their creativity and remodeling experience, it all came together to make a cozy and welcoming place.
The building is useable only during non-freezing temperatures as the water to the faucet is hooked up to a garden hose.
Peggy collects the water that she uses to wash the vegetables in a five-gallon catch pail and then uses it to water their hedge.
In the summer kitchen they have a sink and faucet, full range, small refrigerator and a television - something Peggy jokes that wouldn't have existed in an original summer kitchen.
"I have heard so many stories from ladies of the community who remember having summer kitchens. I just love that they stop and share their stories with me," she added with a big smile.
"It is an era that is gone, but is making a comeback. We have a couple friends who have summer kitchens as well. Theirs are in an area of their garages, but hearing them talk about how nice it is to have a summer kitchen really helped plant the seed in our minds that we wanted to do this, too."
Peggy has been a canner for years. "This (the summer kitchen) just made it more fun!"
She and Steve have a large garden that has been bountiful with produce. This year she has canned (with help from Steve) more than 200 jars that include spaghetti sauce, salsa, tomato juice, pickles, V8-type juice, beans and peppers.
Their garden also included beets, carrots, potatoes, squash, radishes, sweet corn and zucchini. She also froze some of these vegetables for delicious eating during the cold months.
Part of her enjoyment with canning is being able to share her goods with her children and others.
"We plan to enjoy this little summer kitchen all fall. We'll play cards out here with friends, and I will work on things for Festival of Trees, too."
Peggy is very involved with the planning and creating of the Festival of Trees event that is held each year at the Fest Building in Spring Grove during Thanksgiving weekend.
She spends many hours decorating the Fest Building with others, as well as creating many items that are part of the auction that benefits the Houston County Food Shelf and Care & Share.
"I never expected my little summer kitchen to be this nice," Peggy said with a smile beaming on her face. "We use this little building a lot more now, and I just love it."