Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CUCUMBER CRAVINGS

I just made four good-sized Kirbys into a small bowl of VERY quick pickles for Supper---even quicker than the "Cheater Pickles" the fridge is never without. It's just a splash of vinegar into the small flat Glad-Box, with about that much water, some salt, and a sprinkle of sugar to tame the vinegar a bit. Then crisp slices of peeled cucumber in, with a couple of shakes upside-down during the afternoon to keep them all marinating.

Even on this cool night, with Comfort Food cooking (some boneless/skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size, browned, then topped with about a dozen of the saved-from-the-frost tomatoes, a large sliced onion, a whole roasted red pepper in strips, maybe twenty peeled whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf and a handful of basil from the freezer. Lid on, slow simmer for thirty minutes or so to tender up the chicken into melty mouthfuls, and disintegrate all the vegetables into a luscious chunky sauce. Even the garlic is creamy and sweet---you could take it out piece by piece and spread it on toast)---but I'm craving cool Summer Pickles.

They should have been started this morning, but I don't care---they're for supper, and I'm having some.

We went to a family reunion last Spring, way up in the state, and it was not even our family---our houseguests stay with us for a few days on the way up and back, and have asked Chris to photograph the festivities for the last couple of years. It's like stepping into the park pavillion at any reunion in any Southern state, despite the location's being up pert nigh to Michigan.

The ladies all did themselves proud with all sorts of homemade goodies, potato salads and Summer salads and many a Corning Ware of baked beans and of Corn Souffle---that new standby that calls for an artery-clogging ingredients list of canned cream corn, cornbread mix, a cup of sour cream, a stick of butter, eggs, an addiitonal can, drained, of Mexicorn or whole kernel, and whatever little extras are usual to the cook---jalapenos or green onions or pimiento.

But one lady---Bless her Heart in the BEST way. She came in bearing a gallon jug clutched to her bosom, and indeed I'd have hugged it, too. I almost did, when I saw that it was at least a peck of cucumbers, sliced into a golden brine. I like that stuff every way it's made, so I lined up---I don't care if it's straight vinegar and salt, or a sugar-vinegar concoction, or some and all of both, with additions of most anything that will complement. These were most likely LAST YEAR'S cucumbers, because it seemed like a LOT to make for one lunch if they were "bought" cucumbers, and they were appreciably slumpy, though not limp. They were the sorta goldy-green of the long-in-the-brine kind, but perhaps the boiling brine caused the color.

They still had a lot of crisp left in them, and had been peeled so that they all had eight or ten little flat edges, like pale octagonal cogs in the jug. I could just see my Mammaw and me, sitting in the shade of her front porch, dishpans in our laps, peeling and slicing those same flat-sided little slices. And that's a paring-knife slice, the old way; no laying the cucumber on the board for a neat, quick chef's flurry. These were sliced with the same knife that pared the cucumber so flat, cutting from side to side of a cucumber held in the other hand, as the blade slid to a perilous stop a hairsbreadth short of the vulnerable thumb. The knife was always a paring knife or the long-blade, multi-purpose beauty that serves to cut the Easter ham, the cornbread, or a sweating, chilled watermelon ready to thunk open and yield its heart.

And the pickles were wonderful. We'd all been asked to bring a serving spoon for whatever we brought to the lunch, and her odd choice was a gray plastic, bulbously-unwieldy soup ladle, which made getting into the jug a breeze, but getting OUT with a scoopful of bounty difficult, without sloshing the accompanying ladle of juice---the red plastic tablecloth sported a tidy little moat, all round the container, and fruitflies were happily spending their little lifespans drowning themselves in an ecstasy of sugary brine.

I'd brought little plastic bowls to set alongside the big banana pudding I made, and so I took the greedy approach: I scooped two ladles of the delicious stuff into my bowl, all the better to share with my tablemates, of course. They were the perfect counterpoint to all that rich, starch-is-all food. And you don't eat them by the bite, taking dainty nibbles from the edges; you open wide and encompass that whole cool slice, getting sugary vinegary watery juices all down your chin, but the resulting mouthful of crisp and sweet and tangy is just too much to eat dainty.

Those pickles are calling my name.

I might even say TO HECK with that pan of chicken and penne and just sit down with the little Glad-Box and a fork.

1 comment:

Lili said...

You are kidding me... I found my last sorry wrinkling little kirby in the fridge, this morning, from my garden, and this, exactly is what I had for lunch. Some leftover rice, and a bowl of fridge pickles, only I add garlic and red pepper flakes, to the exact same mix of water, vinegar, salt and sugar. We ate them all summer, but I wasn't quite sick of them yet, so finding that pathetic little cuke was a gift.

I love me some homemade pickles, too. Nothing at all, from the supermarket even comes close. Sweet pickles are less prevelant around here, but those huge super garlicky, Eastern European, sour dill types are everywhere.