It’s squash time. We’ve got zucchini and yellow squash coming out our ears. And I didn’t realize how easy it would be to grow cucumbers or I would have bought fewer plants. I haven’t felt much like cooking this summer and am too lazy to can, so it’s been steamed squash at every meal (no joke — breakfast, too!). If cucumber isn’t on our salad, it’s because I just sliced it up and stuck on our plates straight. I finally decided we needed some variety if we were going to get through all this produce without losing our minds.
I got out my battered copy of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (I love a cookbook with “enchanted forest” in the title) and made the Zucchini Julienne and the Wilted Cucumbers. Both recipes call for red wine vinegar, like most of the prepared salads I make. In fact, I’ve been using so much red wine vinegar this summer, that Kurt told me to stop buying it at the store. “I’ve got plenty of bottles of old red wine downstairs that have turned. Let’s use them up instead.”
I love the image of the self-sufficient prairie woman who makes her own bread, sews her own clothes, carries her own water, and chops her own wood, so I was in. Using vinegar we had made ourselves sounded great to me, and the first bottle worked well. The wine flavor was a lot stronger than the red wine vinegars you get at the store, but I could tolerate it and told myself my wilted cucumbers, which I make in fond memory of my grandmother’s refrigerator pickles, had acquired an upscale taste. I got through that bottle quickly and Kurt gave me another for my next round of marinated salads.
Thursday night I was alone for dinner because Kurt had a tennis match. I pulled out the new batch of wilted cucumbers, looking forward to that familiar tangy vinegar bite that goes so well with crisp chilled cukes. I took a bite and chewed, waiting for the zing. I waited and waited. What I got was a mouthful of cucumbers in wine. I took another bite, not believing my taste buds, but they insisted. “You are eating cucumbers and red onions floating in wine. Please stop. Now. We beg you.” I love my food but I prefer the familiar to the exotic. Downright weird? I think I’ll pass. I tried to eat the rest of it, but it nearly made me sick.
When I told Kurt that his wine vinegar was just wine, he was astonished. He tasted it, and then agreed with me. He added a little vinegar to the wine bottle to help get the process started. Of course, it will be a while before it’s ready to use. In the meantime, I had a huge tub of winy cucumbers and another tub of squash in a vinaigrette that was all vin without the grette.
The only thing worse than trying to get through all the produce during peak garden time is wasting it in some way. It kills me if stuff goes bad before we eat it. To have ruined it with non-vinegar vinegar chafed. So I bought a jug of cider vinegar on Friday, the big cheap nothing-gourmet-going-on-here jug, to try to fix my mistake. I poured all the dressing off the cukes, covered them with cider vinegar, and added a bunch more dill to make up for the dill that went down the drain. Most of the cukes were stained red from the wine, so I figured enough vinegar to add some zing should balance any winy taste they still carried. As for the squash, there were too many other ingredients in the dressing to replace it completely, so I just added a half cup of vinegar to the lot, mixed it up, and said a prayer.
I’m happy to report that my replace-the-vinegar trick worked like a charm on the cucumbers. In fact, they are so pucker-worthy that I think I may have overdone it. But at least they taste the way I expect them to. I have yet to taste the squash salad but expect it will be edible, even if it isn’t exactly what I am expecting. Disaster has been averted. The only problem: my counter is STILL covered with vegetables and we’re out of red wine vinegar.
I better send Kurt to the basement for another bottle. And taste it first.
Have you got garden bounty that is making you nuts? What are you doing with all that zucchini? And have you ever had a homemade ingredient surprise you?