Down to Earth: The Summer of Cucumber Soup

We had a neighbor where I grew up who used to dispose of her oversized cucumbers by throwing them over the garden fence in all directions. The problem was that her discarded cukes would land in our potato patch, as well as in the flower beds, vegetable gardens, and lawns of her other neighbors.

This otherwise pleasant woman grew a great patch of dill at the edge of the garden and picked her cucumbers every other day during the summer growing season to make dill pickles. For some reason, though, she always planted more hills of the trailing vegetables than she needed and always had far more cukes than she could use. Perhaps it didn’t occur to her that people would notice the large yellow missiles that appeared in their gardens and on their lawns, but they did. Neighbors on both sides and across her back fence all grew weary of dealing with her donations.

Nevertheless, the cuke tossing went on for several summers until one morning a traveling cucumber hit the neighbor over the fence as the old fellow was working among his watermelon plants. He had been taught as a child that one should suffer in silence, teach by example, and always be a good neighbor, but being hit by a flying yellow rotting cucumber, launched from the hand of the lady over the fence, was too much.

The old man threw down his hoe, picked up a withering, moldy, stinking melon, and held it behind him as he parted the growth of elm saplings separating the properties. Winding up for a long pitch, he lobbed the rotted melon at the bent-over backside of his neighbor. “Take that, you old heifer,” he yelled as the bomb hit its mark. “I’ve had enough of your discarded produce!”

A yelling match ensued, with both folks stomping away angry. In a town as small as ours, nearly everyone heard or witnessed the ruckus. For anyone who didn’t hear it firsthand, the words were repeated again and again on the front porch of the old grocery store a block away.

The vegetable war escalated during the summer, with the gardener on each side of the fence throwing old vegetables at the other at every opportunity. Exploded melons, splattered tomatoes, deflated peppers, and blackened potatoes littered the battleground.

That was the summer that cucumber soup became popular in our town. One neighbor, trying to mediate the dispute, took a pitcher of cold cucumber soup, along with the recipe, to the lady who had started the vegetable war. Other neighbors asked for sprigs of dill so they could make some, too, and the recipe was circulated freely. Cucumber soup appeared at every social and church supper all summer long as the whole community looked for ways to simmer down the feud.

But the war ended as abruptly as it had started. One day, the adversaries found themselves standing in line together at the annual ice cream supper at the community building. Caught off guard, the two enemies stared at each other as the other town folk held their breaths. Suddenly, the man began to laugh, then the woman, and the whole room relaxed.

The two joked about their summer of war. They laughed at the better shots each had gotten on the other. Most of all, they laughed at how the whole community had turned their silly battle into a summer of the most delightful cucumber soups at every occasion. “I hope,” said the man, “that there’s not cucumber ice cream tonight, too.”

Here’s the recipe for CUCUMBER SOUP, the only remnant of the summer of the vegetable war in our town. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this story, it’s this: grow lots of dill, use up the extra cucumbers, and never, never throw yellow cucumbers into your neighbor’s yard.

• 4 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut up
• 1 small, mild onion, cut up
• 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 small carton sour cream, about 3/4 cup
• 2 small cartons plain unsweetened yogurt, about 11/2 cups
• 7-8 fresh dill leaves (or more)
• Dash of Tabasco
• 1 cup buttermilk

1. In a skillet, slowly cook half the cucumbers with the onion for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Combine with the remaining ingredients, then puree in a food processor or blender. Taste, and add salt and more fresh dill leaves as necessary. Puree the soup again, then chill for several hours.

2. Serve ice-cold in chilled bowls with a fresh dill leaf floating on top and bread sticks on the side.

Jim Long is an herbalist and the owner of Long Creek Herb Farm in Oak Grove, Arkansas.

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