Not Your Run of the Mill Cucumber Salad

One of the hobbies I have is reading old cookbooks.  I have a review of a classic gem from the 19th Century by Mrs. Owens elsewhere on this site.  I find many interesting recipes and rediscover ideas and solutions to problems that have been long forgotten.  Although sometimes I laugh when I see them on “life hack” links on my social media.  Don’t know what I mean?  Like rubbing a walnut on scratched furniture to make the scratch less noticeable.  So as the cucumbers started filling out on the vines, and piling up at the markets, I went back to an old recipe that I adapted from The Searchlight Cookbook (mine is the 23rd edition, published in 1952). This is not your run of the mill cucumber salad that uses vinegar and onions.

I went back to the original recipe to see how many changes I made, and there were quite a few.  While I was looking through the book, I saw recipes for other cucumber dishes, including scalloped cucumbers and creamed cucumbers, both of which sounded rather unappealing.  But I realized that may be because the only cooked cucumber I ever ate was a pickle.  I might just have to try one of those recipes and get back to you next week. But for now, a really unusual side for a hot summer evening.

Cucumber and Cheese Salad

  • 2 medium cucumbers, cut length-wise, seeded and diced
  • ¾ C sharp cheddar cheese, cubed small
  • ¾ C diced celery
  • 1 C grated carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced (optional)
  • ¼ C  relish
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ to ½ C mayo or creamy dressing, such as the Cooked Dressing below
  1. In a colander, combine the cucumber, celery, carrots, pepper(s), and salt. Put a plate on top and weigh it down to press out some of the water. Let rest for about 20 minutes.  While you are waiting you can make the cooked dressing below.
  2. After 20 minutes, press out as much water as you can. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the cheese, relish and about ½ of dressing (you can use mayo or the dressing below). Toss to combine and evenly distribute the dressing.

Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

In addition to using this as a side, it makes a great stuffing for fresh tomatoes: cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds.  Fill the cavity with the salad.  A light refreshing lunch or dinner.

Cooked Dressing

(this is good on coleslaw, potato salad, cucumber salad, or a garden salad)

  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/4 C melted butter
  • 1/2  C white vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ¼ t paprika
  • 1 T arrowroot powder
  • 2 T honey
  1. In the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT the honey, and mix until it is smooth.
  2. Place the metal bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, being sure that the water is not boiling up to the level of the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until it is thick and very smooth. This may take a few minutes.  Be patient.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Adjust for sweet and salt until you achieve the desired balance.
  4. Cool and transfer to a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator.

 

**If you are looking for some old standards as far as cucumber recipes, here are some links to pickles: your standard dills and garlic.

Focus on One: Kick the Can

Remember that game? Kick the Can? That brings back summer memories when half the neighborhood convened in our backyard for the after dinner games. The first was always “Kill the Man” which involved everyone running after and trying to tackle whoever had the ball – there were no teams, just every boy for himself (or girl for herself). My sister was great at this game because she was fast and agile and no one could catch her. Then, once it was getting dark, was Flashlight Tag or Kick the Can. And we never had to worry about mosquito bites because the DDT fogger trucks came through every evening.

And while getting out and playing a game after dinner would be a great focus for a month, May is probably not the month – kids are still in school; most sports teams are still playing; in our district it is the time for band concerts and art shows. IMG_0452But May is the month for early summer berries like strawberries and early raspberries. Our favorite ways to enjoy either of these berries is topped with whipped cream or made into ice-cream.

What is your idea of whipped cream? Growing up, we used a lot of Cool-Whip® and I think that was because originally it was marketed as non-dairy. And we loved it – it was a sweet, creamy topping.

Then, one fateful night, my mother bought whipped cream – the kind that comes in an aerosol can. She topped the pudding we were having for dessert and once we had that, Cool-Whip® had to move over.

For a long time I thought whipped cream came out of a can. Imagine my surprise finding a recipe in an old cookbook for whipped cream. On my first attempt, I made clotted cream because I left it whip for too long. It was delicious on scones, but not so great for fresh berries. What follows isn’t a recipe with measurements, it’s more of a technique. Depending on the sweetness of the berries, I add more or less sugar (usually about 2T sugar to 1 C of heavy cream). If I am making a dessert layering berries and sponge cake for example, I will add about ¼ t of vanilla.

There is much made of being sure your bowl and beaters are all very cold before you begin. I found no noticeable difference between room temperature equipment and cold equipment. The big issue is keeping a close eye on the product as it whips. You know what whipped cream is supposed to look like, so whip it until it gets to look like that. The TRICK is not to look away. Do not walk away to do anything else while you are whipping the cream. I am famous for doing things like putting onions on to sauté and then running out to snip rosemary. That is an absolute no-no when you are whipping cream.

You cannot use light cream. You need either heavy cream or Whipping Cream. They are not synonymous! The whipped cream from heavy cream (35-37% milk fat) will hold it’s shape longer than that from whipping cream (29-31% milk fat), but whipping cream whips up faster and fluffier.

Pour the cream into a bowl and start the beaters. Increase to high speed. Slowly add the sugar and patiently watch as the cream whips up. If you are adding vanilla, do so when it gets to the “soft peaks” stage: when the beaters are leaving a trail through the cream, but it is still very soft.

Making Your Own Greek-Style Yogurt

We love yogurt.  We especially love the thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt that has become so popular lately.  And just like everything else we have learned to do, making yogurt was a trial and error process.  The recipe that follows is more of a guideline than a hard and fast recipe.  The conditions in your kitchen will not be the same as the conditions in my kitchen.  Because we do not have air-conditioning at our house, the conditions in my kitchen vary drastically throughout the year, and therefore, so does my yogurt making.  I have one blanket for summer yogurt incubation and another for winter!

I have stopped using reserved yogurt as my starter.  I have found much more consistent results from using the whey that was strained from the last week’s yogurt.  However, you cannot strain commercial yogurt and use that whey as a starter.  That series of experiments was an epic fail!

Homemade Greek-Style Yogurt

3 ½ Cups of whole milk (see note below)

½ C plain yogurt (either commercial with LIVE cultures, or reserved from your last batch) OR 1/2 C whey from your last batch  of yogurt

candy thermometer

Heat the milk on the stove slowly.  If you are using pasteurized milk, heat to 180° F, and let cool to 110° F.  If you are using raw milk, heat to 110° F.   Whisk in the ½ C yogurt or whey.  Transfer to a quart size mason jar and place the jar and a heating pad inside a little cooler.  Turn the heating pad onto Medium.   Incubate for 4-8 hours, depending on how tart you like your yogurt.  After the yogurt has incubated, put it in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled (I usually leave it overnight).   The next morning, place a flour sack towel inside a sieve and place the sieve on a bowl.  If you have used raw milk, scrape the “cream” from the top and reserve in a small bowl.  Put the rest of the yogurt in the sieve.  Add the cream back on the top. Put it back in the fridge and let is strain for two or three hours.  Reserve the whey for lacto-fermenting (it will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of months).  Invert the sieve into the bowl and peel the towel off the yogurt and enjoy!  My children LOVE this yogurt salted for dipping vegetables.

NOTE:  I feel that grass-fed raw milk gives the best, most consistent results.  If you cannot get raw milk, try to find grass-fed milk that is not homogenized.  If you can’t find that, then settle for organic milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized.