Grandma Mary’s Sweet Cucumber Salad
Nothing says Summer like my dear Grandma Mary’s sweet cucumber salad. The taste of this stuff brings me back to my childhood when my brothers and sisters and I would spend a couple of weeks at her house in a little town in Southern Illinois. Illinois is very flat and the drive down old Route 3 from St. Louis was sparse with little towns like Red Bud, Sparta, Pinkneyville, and DuQuoin. It was a four-hour road trip back then. Farms of corn and soy beans would stretch on forever. Oil derricks bobbed here and there in fields throughout the area reminding me of giant crickets sipping oil from the ground. West Frankfort wasn’t quite the South and not exactly Midwest, it was Grandma’s magical small town somewhere between…A place where time stood still. Grandma lived a block from Main Street on East Poplar St. Her yard backed up to the alley where she grew a little garden with lettuce, red and yellow tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, rhubarb, zucchini, and cucumbers. There was also a chestnut tree I nearly lived in during my Summer stay. She would call us all in for supper and almost always had her cucumber salad as a side dish. Of course she knew how to pickle and can but it’s the simplest things that are the best and Grandma Mary had a knack for making those simple things outstanding by striking the right balance of salt and pepper, sweet and sour, and savory and spice.
I’ve had cucumbers coming out my ears lately from folks who have plenty to spare, making me crave that special taste I enjoyed each time I visited my grandmother in Summertime. She always used cider vinegar, 2/3 cup, 1 cup of water and 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a sprinkle of dill weed, and a teaspoon of olive oil. This is enough to coat and soak three cucumbers peeled and sliced in thin slices. She would let it stay in her “Frigidaire” for a few hours and when it was supper time, we would enjoy her fried chicken, green beans made her special way from the pressure cooker, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, and that cucumber salad I loved so much. It’s not anything anyone else would think much of…nothing fancy. It just takes me back to a special time and place with a very special person who cared for the earth, cared for people, took special care to prepare food, and lived ninety-nine years doing it.