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Cool As A Cucumber

The first summer I worked on a goat farm was a scorcher.

North Carolina summers tend towards the hot and humid, but this summer in particular was punishing. The days were unrelenting and bright, sticky in that special way the South and Midwest are.  It gets humid enough so that sweating doesn't do you any good--nothing evaporates and you just end up being hot and wet.

After a short and unsatisfying stint as a barista (thus ending with no pomp or circumstance my career in customer service), I agreed, literally on a whim, to accept a job offer on a small goat dairy.

The deal was, I would work and live on the farm for three days a week, then drive back to the city and do a couple farmer's markets. This was really my first foray into hard physical labor. I would wake up early to milk the goats, then clean the milking parlor and muck out the barn and feeding area. After that, I might clean up and help with a batch of cheese or take the goats out to browse in the woods.

I loved the work instantly. It was dirty and hot, and for some reason it struck a chord that still resonates today. I had been primed my entire life to work at a desk, but somehow holding a shovel and scraping goat poop off the floor of a humid milking parlor made me tremendously happy. Go figure.

During that hot summer, we had a few strategies for keeping cool. There was a little pond hidden back in the woods that we frequented. We would also take breaks from pasteurizing milk and washing cheese molds under a canopy with glasses of iced tea. But one enduring practice that I still perform during the hottest days of summer is that of the cucumber salad.

On the farm, when it was too hot to eat, we would make a simple cucumber salad to refresh us and keep us going until the sun went down. It was almost a quick pickle--cucumbers, vinegar, salt, dill. The version I make most often these days is only slightly more complicated. This is the sort of thing you can make in five minutes on a hot summer day. It's the perfect salad accompaniment for grilled meats, but really it goes with almost anything.

I almost feel sheepish giving you a recipe so simple, but this salad has been a lifesaver on so many dog days that I can't not share it. As always, go by your own lights when making this. Use more or less garlic, throw in other veggies if you must, choose spices you like, and use any herbs you have that might be a good fit. This is the sort of infinitely malleable recipe I love best.

Other articles you might enjoy: Basic Yogurt Sauce, Panzanella, Shaved Squash Salad

Quick Cucumber Salad
Serves 2 to 4 (can easily be made in quantity for more people)

Slice thinly with a knife or on a mandoline:
           1 long English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise
Combine the cucumber in a bowl with:
           2 tablespoons rice vinegar
           1 tablespoon chopped mint or dill
           2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane or mashed to a paste
           1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or aleppo pepper
           1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Toss to combine and allow to sit, refrigerated, for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.


fen job's picture

Am just intrested in cooking so I bet this is the best place I can be
Susan Hesson's picture

Growing up, our mom used to read us the stories that precede many of the recipes in the Joy of Cooking. She had a battered, well-used and loved copy from...I don't know the copyright date, but she used to say that when she was a young bride, she was home alone with only two books: the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the Joy of Cooking, and that's why she was such a good Episcopalian and a great cook. We loved the stories she would read us, and it definitely sparked my interest in cooking. I have her copy, as well as my one from the early 1980s. It's delightful to see the evolution of this timeless book.
meg's picture

Thank you so much, Susan! It truly means a lot to hear stories like yours, and it's why we as a family continue to update and improve the book. We love to hear about multiple generations of a family using JOY, and it's especially wonderful to hear that we've inspired someone to cook or helped them learn. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Bill's picture

You're right. A refreshing cucumber salad on a hot summer day is one of the great tastes of the season. In fact, I just had one. Ours are simpler--cukes, vinegar, salt and pepper. But I like the idea of adding some red pepper flakes. Will give that a try tomorrow!
meg's picture

Simple is good. We're mildly addicted to red pepper flakes and garlic, so we add them to almost everything we cook.

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