There are two things I've always been able to count on at my grandparents' South Carolina beach condo: a sparkling view of the Atlantic and a bowl of marinated cucumbers in the fridge.
My grandmother was an amazing cook, churning out small batches of fudge at Christmas, enormous batches of hot dog chili at Halloween, and whatever she saw on Food Network in between. In spring and summer, thanks to the garden my grandfather tended at the family farm down the road, marinated cucumbers were always on the menu. After she died, my grandfather, who for more than 40 years had relied on her for meals, had to learn the ropes of their narrow galley kitchen himself.
My grandfather has yet to attempt her fudge, but he mastered the marinated cucumbers our first summer without her. They're easy—a quick pickle, soaked in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, oil, and sugar, and layered with slivers of white and yellow onions. 24 hours in the refrigerator, and they're good to go.
The other night, homesick for my people and nostalgic for bygone beach days, I attempted the marinated cucumbers for the first time. And unlike the fudge I've tried and failed at before, the cucumbers were a fail-proof winner. One bite, and I was immediately seven years old again, tiptoeing across the laminate flooring with sandy toes and sliding my salty, prune-y fingers into the bowl left on one of the few refrigerator shelves I could reach.
Just as I remembered, they're refreshingly tangy with a lingering, subtle sweetness. That they cured my homesickness was a comforting bonus.
Courtesy of Betsy Cribb
Here's how to make them:
Pare the skin of five or six long cucumbers. Cut in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise (moderately narrow). Then, chop one white onion and one yellow onion into sizeable chunks or slices. In a Mason jar (or any kind of container that seals tightly), pour ¼ cup of vegetable oil, ¾ cup of apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake until mixed well. In a bowl, place half of the cucumber slices. Cover with a layer of onions (about half). Add the remaining cucumber slices and then the rest of the onions. Pour the oil-and-vinegar mixture over the top, then refrigerate for 24 hours.
Courtesy of Betsy Cribb My grandmother's recipe, handwritten by my grandfather
Two quick editor's notes:
In the name of transparency, I feel quite certain that this is not an original recipe, but it's the one we call my grandmother's. (We found out after my beloved grandmother died, for instance, that her equally beloved original fudge recipe had been borrowed off the Marshmallow Fluff jar.)
I think my grandmother was a little more heavy-handed with the sugar than she confessed in the written recipe. Mine weren’t quite as sweet as the marinated cucumbers of my memory.
WATCH: How To Pickle Any Vegetable