Monday, August 27, 2007

Cucumber Salad at Grandma's House

Grandma's House

I remember eating dinners in the small kitchen in Lisbon Falls, Maine - six of us around the table in the middle of the room, my Brother and my Father sitting across from my Mom and I, Grandma at one end and Grandpa at the other. The kitchen often smelled like fresh baked bread back then - Grandma was still baking her own in the antique oven - and the old, white cabinets and light linoleum floor and table made the kitchen relatively bright in the otherwise dark, small home.

My Dad grew up in that house and we'd visit twice a year, in the summer to go with the whole family down to Old Orchard Beach, and in the autumn to visit for Thanksgiving. My Brother and I would play with my dad's old vibrating football game or bang tunelessly on the piano in the living room as the adults watched the old television set in the family room. It was a long drive, but we liked going up there... the house had a mysterious quality to it that made it feel adventurous for my brother and me.

Those dinners were a highlight. Typical New England boiled dinner - meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions - all boiled until they were all the same soft consistency. My Dad would take all of those items and mash them up together in his bowl until they became "mush" while my brother and I laughed at him goofing around. Grandpa Andy, eating quietly and deliberately at the end of the table, was not as amused.

But our favorite part of dinner may have been the accompaniment of our Grandfather's favorite side dish - cucumber salad. The memory of this concoction has stayed with us years later, and my brother and I have recently breathed new life into the recipe by starting to make it again - just like it used to be made:

Very thinly-sliced cuke rounds single-layered in the bottom of a big glass bowl, salted heavily, then topped with 1/4" sliced white onion rings to seperate from the second layer of thinly-sliced cuke rounds, heavily salted, layer of onion, cukes, salted... Maybe three layers from 2-3 cukes works well.

That bowl sits covered at room temperature for an hour for those salt crystals to go to work breaking down the cellular structure of the fresh veggies (I don't know if Grandpa knew that was what was happening - but I know he liked it). After an hour, the cukes and onions are limp and have given off alot of water. We dumped that water out and gave them a rinse or two, then took handfuls of the cukes/onions and squeeeeeeezed all the water out that we could - adding the then-squeezed handfuls to a new bowl, and repeating with another handful until all were drained of their water.

A big TBLS of sugar, ground black pepper, and a couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar are then added - and just a enough water (not much) so all the cukes are barely immersed. Stir and taste the liquid and make sure you like the flavor, then pop them in the fridge until you are ready to eat them. Tastes great right then, even better the next day.

As I took the cuke salad out of the fridge to plate with a grilled piece of salmon with some dilled sour cream over top and a little couscous on the side, I caught the smell of the cukes and onions and sugar and vinegar - such a unique scent! It whisked me back to that small kitchen in Maine and to that dinner table where we'd sit and eat and laugh before Grandma washed all the dishes by hand as we ate dessert.

Grandpa died over 20 years ago and Grandma still lives in that same house in Lisbon Falls. We try to visit her once or twice a year - she doesn't cook anymore so we'll pick up a pizza from down the street and eat it at that small table in the middle of the kitchen and we'll talk and laugh.


Tonia said...

Thanks for sharing those memories. It brought a smile to my face, along with some memories of my grandfather.

Oh, it also made me crave cucumbers. =)

Trevor said...

I was making this cucumber salad or quick pickles everynight earlier this summer.

Boston Chef said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting!

No doubt, this is PERFECT for summer - and went very well with the grilled fish.

Sharona May said...

I like the cucumber salad, great side dish for the hot summer days.

Just made cucumber soup a few weeks ago.
Check it out.

Boston Chef said...

That cucumber soup looks delicious! We may just give that cool cuke soup a shot when the temps reach the 90s this weekend in Boston (our first weekend home in what seems like months)!