Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Our cucumber vines of past years.   I've been so enamored of the tee-ninecy baby English cukes at Sam's for munching, and the equally-lovely small Kirbys for quick pickles, our how-does-your-garden-grow? is mostly a thing of the past.

I just sliced four good-sized Kirbys into a small bowl for VERY quick pickles for Supper---it's just a splash of Champagne 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 cucumber in, with a couple of shakes upside-down during the afternoon to keep them all marinating as they chill.

We went to a family reunion last Spring, way up in the state, and it was not even our family---dear Cousins from Alabama stay with us for a few days on the way up and back as they travel to his old home town, and have asked Chris to photograph the festivities for the last couple of years. It's like stepping into the park pavilion 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 additonal 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---garlic or dill or zingy bits of hot pepper. 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.

These are not mine, but look much like the ones from the reunion dinner.

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, the old Southern housewife's way, before Food TV and a knife for every occasion---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, holding a cucumber in one hand and cutting from side to side with the other, 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 life-spans drowning themselves in an ecstasy of 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 a 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.

And now, the ones in the fridge are calling my name.


donna baker said...

Rachel, I grow and pickle cukes every summer. So much work, but are delicious. I didn't even know people ate their own food till I met my husband. I remember the first time someone brought their own bacon and eggs to me. I promptly threw them in the trash, thinking they were probably wormy or something. I was only 19. I learned though. I left you another reply on my blog. Thanks for taking the time to visit with me.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:

Cucumber salad, which sounds very like that which you describe in this post, is very popular here and we often have Tímea make it for us. There is also some process by which cucumbers are steeped in something and left outside in the sun for several days in the summer - also very popular.

harleygirl said...

This sounds so nice. We also make pickles; but I am partial to the pickled beans, myself. In fact, during my last pregnancy, I ate jar after jar of them and my husband joked we'd have to make double for the following year because I wouldn't stay out of them! ha, ha. Last year our cucumbers didn't amount to much, so this year we need to make an abundance of pickles. Let the growing season begin! :)

Kathy said...

I am not fond of pickles in any form. When we are at a restaurant I end up giving all my pickles to my husband. He loves them.

When I was little I did like the sweet gherkins and the pickled cauliflower we used to buy at the store. But that's about it.

Kim S. said...

I love the image of the fruit flys “drowning themselves in an ecstasy of brine. “ You DO have a way with words, my dear! I have a big plastic bin full of sliced Kirbys, onions, vinegar, Splenda and tons of pepper in the fridge right now. It wouldn’t be summer without those on the table. Now – if I could only find some fabulous tomatoes.