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Cool as a Cucumber

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It was a beautiful morning; I was out working in the garden just watching the plants grow. They seemed so happy. 

I take care of my 94-year-old dad, who lives in a trailer park not far from my home. We have planted a garden for him to enjoy; it’s planted in round half wine barrels that line both sides of a small walkway, so it’s easy for him to inspect the plants’ progress. Each barrel has a drip system, making it easy for him to water them each day. I told him it was his responsibility to make sure that he watered each day. He told me he thought I was getting even with him for all the chores he had me do when I was a kid. He laughs at the joke as we work together harvesting our little crop. 

This is our third garden at his house and I have to admit I was surprised at how much produce these barrels provide. We have adjusted the amount of each kind of plant that we use and have increased the varieties that work for us. The first year we overdid the number of tomatoes we planted. We did learn that two plants in each barrel is more than enough for us even when sharing with the neighbors. We currently are enjoying artichokes, swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet Italian peppers, jalapeno peppers, slicing tomatoes, okra, carrots, beets, turnips, spinach, fingerling eggplant, lettuce, dill, basil, sage, cilantro, cantaloupe and cucumbers. Are you amazed? I was. There are 20 half barrels and lots of produce each day to pick. There’s nothing better than fresh vegetables and the pride my dad takes in being able to provide for us.

Today’s harvest was more than generous. Tonight, we plan on barbecuing hamburgers with an old favorite, cucumber salad. There are many different types of cucumbers salads, but this one has been in our family for years. Dill is one of the ingredients, so it replaces the pickle on the burger and makes the perfect side salad. I love the simple ingredients, fresh, crispy and flavorful. Best of all, it can be made with minimal effort. I’m using pickling cucumbers today because that is what we have raised. They are amazing as salad cucumbers and we can make dill pickles or bread and butter pickles out of them for the winter. Our wine barrel spaces are small but plentiful. Let’s make our salad.

Cucumber Salad, Grandma Mary’s Way
4-5 large pickling cucumbers, peeled and sliced, or 2 large fresh English cucumbers, sliced thin
½ cup sour cream
2 tsp. fresh chopped dill or 1 tsp. dried dill seeds
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 large clove minced garlic
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar or honey
¼ tsp. black pepper

Peel and thinly slice cucumbers; if you are using English cucumbers there’s no need to peel, just slice them as thinly as possible. Place in a large bowl and set aside. In a smaller bowl, mix sour cream, fresh dill, vinegar, minced garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Pour sour cream dressing over the cucumber slices and toss them gently to coat. You can serve this right away or cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to chill.      

I told you it was quick and easy! Today I made the salad first, put it in the refrigerator to chill, then headed out to the grill to barbecue the hamburgers. I like letting it chill first so that the flavors soak into the cucumbers, giving the garlic and dill a chance to marry.

I know some folks don’t like sour cream. I hear you! You can use mayonnaise if you like or maybe a combination of half sour cream and half mayonnaise. You can also use plain yogurt; remember that it’s thicker and not as creamy as sour cream. To thin the yogurt, add a tablespoon or two of water when making the dressing. That way it will cover the cucumbers when tossing.

You can make this simple salad your own. It is great just the way it is or you can adjust the size by adding halved cherry tomatoes and sliced red onion, or dicing some little green onions and adding some baby spinach with thinly sliced radishes. The only problem I have is that if I add too much extra, the salad gets too big for us to finish with our dinner. These are ideas to keep it small or increase the size for larger crowds by just adding a little extra.

I would like to thank God for helping us with our beautiful little garden and giving my dad the feeling of being needed and wanted in this crazy world where we live. I ask that you take the time to be outside for your health, take the time to be with family for your heart and take the time to love the things you are blessed with in this life. From my recipe book and Grandma Meidinger’s kitchen table, enjoy.