Ten Things To Do When Swamped With Cucumbers

eggplant / rejoicing hillspumpkins and watermelon / rejoicing hillsAt this time of the year when I walk outside, the call of the fields and forest gets somewhat dimmed by the call of the garden.  Out in the woods, the ferns are curling up brown and everything is in that sort of awkward transition between summer and fall.  But in the garden, at least the one I planted this year, everything is just reaching it’s most splendid peak.

And so that’s where I go, taking my camera with me to document the discoveries of dark round watermelons beneath notched leaves, big orange pumpkins and shiny purple eggplant.  And the little yellow cucumber flowers, bright like little stars amidst the delicately serrated edges of leafy vines.cucumber flower / rejoicing hillsAnd then I dig down beneath those leaves, and I fill the wheelbarrow with cucumbers (and zucchini—but that’s another story) and I bring them up to the house, stack them up like cord wood on the kitchen table and wonder what in the world I’m going to do with them all.cucumbers / rejoicing hillsHonestly, I thought I had planted just the right amount (just one hill, so we could eat them fresh), but lo and behold, I was wrong.  We are drowning in cucumbers—and we still have pickles in the basement from last year!  What do you do when you don’t need pickles and a daily whole fresh cucumber for lunch is getting a little old?  Well…

  1. You give thanks for the abundance.  It is truly a blessing to have my cup—er, wheelbarrow—overflow with produce, even if it is a bit of a scramble to use them all up before they spoil.
  2. You research the amazing health and home benefits of cucumbers to boost cucumber enthusiasm house-wide.  Did you know that a single cucumber contains pretty much all of the vitamins your body needs for one day?  Or that cucumbers are good for treating both high and low blood pressure?  Or that you can use cucumbers on sunburns just like aloe vera?  Or that if you rub a slice of cucumber along a squeaky hinge, it will stop squeaking?  There’s a great list with more fun health benefits and uses here.  I’ve always liked cucumbers and after reading this, I finally know why!
  3. You slice them up thin and use them in lieu of lettuce in sandwiches.  Or you skip the bread and stuff a hollowed out cucumber with the sandwich fillings.  We tried ham and cream cheese—yum!stuffed cucumber / rejoicing hills
  4. You put them in all tossed salads and try to keep the ratio of lettuce to cucumber somewhat reasonable, so you can still call it a lettuce salad, because…
  5. You also make cucumber salad, which is different.  This version with tomatoes, avocado and feta cheese is my new favorite this year!
  6. You make gyros with cucumber sauce.  (This probably qualifies as my top favorite way to dispose of cucumbers.)
  7. You make cucumber-and-cream-cheese tea sandwiches (and cucumber-tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches if your tomatoes are ripe, which mine are not).  Only skip the tiny tea size and make them big.
  8. You try every new and interesting recipe you can find.  Nice to meet you, cucumber soup and cucumber chips.
  9. You bless all your friends by smuggling them into the back seats of their cars as surprise gifts.  (Just kidding—actually bringing a pile them to church with a “help yourself” sign attached might be a better idea!)
  10. And if all else fails, you make a cake.

cucumber cake / rejoicing hillsBecause naturally a cucumber cake probably would be the last thing you think of. But no, I’m really not kidding on this one.  There really is such a thing—and it’s delicious!  (If you’re adventurous enough to try it, too, the recipe I used is here.  I doubled the recipe—because, hello, we’re trying to use up cucumbers over here!—but stuck with a single batch of the frosting and used lemon juice instead of the elderberry cordial.)

“He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”  (Acts 14:17)

What are your favorite ways to enjoy the blessing of cucumbers?

In Search Of: Morel Mushrooms

IMG_6237Ask a fisherman around here where he pulled in the latest big catch he’s been bragging about, and he’ll quickly turn vague on you.  “At an area lake,” he might reply, with a twinkle in his eye.

Ask the neighbor lady where she found the wild blueberries in that luscious pie that fetched $75 dollars at a local pie auction charity, and she’d reply with a smile, “Oh, just around, you know.”

Favorite fishing holes and wild berry patches can be pretty closely guarded secrets in our neck of the woods.  But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered secret-ism as great as those of mushroom pickers.  If someone really likes you they might offer a few tips on the kind of habitat to look for, but that’s about it.  If you want to go hunting for wild mushrooms, it’s a commonly accepted fact that you’re mostly on your own.morel mushroom / rejoicing hillsThe thing is—they’re not exactly easy to find, even if you’re fortunate enough to happen upon the right spot.  Check out the photo above, taken from a very short distance away.  Now imagine standing up and stepping back several feet, add in a generous tangle of thick forest, brush, foliage and sticks, and you might begin to understand what I’m talking about.  It takes patience and practice to learn how to spot them, and a lot of time spent crouching low, scanning the forest floor.  They don’t grow in rows or clumps (the pair above is unusual) but pop up from the forest floor at complete random.  Sometimes you’ll only find one, sometimes you’ll find a lot.  You never know.

But—it’s so worth it.

Morels are a delicacy in the world of mushrooms, and not just because they’re elusive to harvest.  They are also the most delicious mushrooms I’ve ever tasted. Granted, this statement is coming from a mushroom lover.  But I’ve even known firmly avowed mushroom haters to go back for seconds of morels.

Recently we spent the good part of a rainy afternoon crawling around the woods with some fellow mushroom lovers and empty ice cream buckets—and came home with these beauties:bowl of morels mushrooms / rejoicing hillsWe rolled them in a simple breading of flour, salt and pepper, with just a hint of parsley and cayenne, and sauteed them in butter.  The members of our mushroom picking expedition gathered around the platter with forks and you should’ve heard the exclamations of satisfaction as we savored the reward of our labors!  They were gone in no time, and plans were already being made to go in search of more.IMG_6286Some things in life are worth every bit of time, energy—and, yes, even the scratched ankles, sore backs and wood ticks—required to secure them.

Kind of like the Kingdom of Heaven.

Of course, morel mushrooms don’t even hold a candle to the kingdom of heaven in terms of value.  But as I scrambled over fallen trees, listened to the periodic triumphant cries of “Found one!” echoing from various parts of the woods, and scanned the forest floor with such intense scrutiny that my eyes hurt by the time the day was over, something occurred to me.  What if I put this much time, energy, enthusiasm, and even sacrifice into seeking the kingdom of God?  This man did:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  (Matthew 13:44)

We’d do well to take a lesson from him.  Maybe you wouldn’t consider wild mushrooms worth your time;  if not, fill in the blank with anything you’d give a great deal to find or secure.  The bottom line is, earthly treasure, of any sort, is temporal and fleeting;  heavenly treasure is of infinite, eternal value.

Jesus said: And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…Provide yourselves…with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroysFor where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Luke 12:34)

What kind of treasure are you seeking?morel mushroom / rejoicing hills