My little garden is really starting to produce: my first cherry tomatoes have ripened, the first large green tomatoes are ready to ripen, we’ve enjoyed many wonderful leaf lettuce salads, and now the cucumbers are going crazy.
Mimi and Granddaddy always had a big garden when I was growing up. In the summertime, they grew sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, scallions, and green beans, at a minimum. I remember helping them sometimes, mostly with the harvesting: crouching along the rows of green beans, making sure to get all the little pods. Or helping Granddaddy in the winter, washing his harvests of collard, mustard, and turnips greens in successive water baths in big white buckets in the carport (don’t you know, there were no “garages” back then – just carports!). Somehow, though, I escaped most of the labor involved in their garden and simply got to enjoy the fruits: those greens, cleaned, cooked, and doused with Granddaddy’s home-grown and -made pepper vinegar; soft, cooked green beans with onions and ham hocks in the summer and crisp canned green bean salad with tangy dressing and sharp onions in the winter; steaming hot cornbread sticks – like the ones Rachael made here – slathered in Mimi’s home-made and -grown pepper jelly; Mimi’s ratatouille, surely inspired by Julia Child’s introduction of French cooking to America’s home cooks, composed of stewed eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
More than anything, though, summer at Mimi and Granddaddy’s house meant dinners full of crisp, beautiful, home-grown cucumbers – very often, cucumbers simply peeled, sliced, and bathed in white vinegar, topped with ice cubes and chilled in the refrigerator. Crunchy, light, tangy, and cool, biting into these helped combat the sweltering blanket of heat that covers North Florida in the summertime.
My one cucumber plant is producing about one or two cucumbers a day right now – that’s upwards of a dozen a week, and I don’t pick them until they’re pretty big (the ones pictured above are actually from the farmer’s market, before mine were ready to harvest – much smaller than what I’ve been picking at home). We have a lot of cucumbers to eat! Mimi canned many of hers, of course, making a couple of kinds of cucumber pickles, in addition to her green tomato pickles, canned green beans, jellies, relishes, and frozen home-grown fruits and veggies. But I wondered what other fresh preparations of cucumbers she made, so I turned to the pile of hand-written recipe cards I brought home after her funeral last Christmas. Of course, Mimi didn’t disappoint.
“Buttermilk Salad” was the answer I came away with. I don’t remember ever eating this growing up, but that could be because I turned my nose up at it. I thought I hated buttermilk, one of those decisions you make as a child and don’t question until you’re old enough to have forgotten why you thought you hated that thing in the first place. I don’t think I could drink a tall glass of buttermilk with dinner, like my mom is apt to do, but sliced fresh cucumbers drenched in the creamy, tangy stuff? I’m there.
Mimi’s Sliced Cucumber Salad with Vinegar
Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
White Vinegar, enough to cover sliced cukes
Sliced sweet white onion (preferably Vidalia)
Salt & pepper
Peel and slice as many cucumbers as you’d like and place in a bowl. Add sliced white onion, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix. Cover with white vinegar – if you want the salad to be a little milder and less vinegary, replace some portion of the vinegar with water. Top with ice cubes and place in refrigerator to chill before eating. This is best made an hour or less before you plan to eat, so that the cucumbers are at their freshest.
Mimi’s Buttermilk Salad
3 medium cucumbers
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme (I used fresh lemon thyme)
1 quart buttermilk
Optional: thin slices of sweet white onion
Peel and slice cucumbers as finely as possible. Put the garlic through press and add with thyme to the cucumber. Add onion if you’re going to use it – only use a small amount and slice very thinly. Mix thoroughly with the cold, fresh buttermilk and season to taste with salt. Serve immediately or chill for an hour and serve.