Around Louisiana: Central
I have to admit to a personal objection to the use of the term “cuke” when referring to that delicious addition to any salad (or a perfect stand-alone side-dish sliced with oil, vinegar and a sprinkling of dill) – the cucumber. I remember summers in the kitchen of my great-grandparents’ farm in Bordelonville with the country table covered with deep-green cucumbers harvested from a garden and Mason jars filled with homemade pickles. The crunchy celadon-colored flesh has the refreshing and thirst-quenching flavor of a subdued watermelon; eat them sliced without peeling the forest-green skin, and you’re partaking of a natural diuretic.
August is the time to plant for an autumn harvest of cucumbers, especially if you have the goal in mind to have preserved pickles for the winter. If you’re growing cucumbers from seeds, keep a wary eye on the type you plant – not every variety does well here in the Bayou State, the Land of Steamy Steams. These members of the cucurbit family produce both male and female flowers, and thanks to the participation of honeybees and bumblebees, whose pollination activity turns them into busy little storks, cucumber progeny soon appear on the vine. There are some varieties called gynoecious; they are fertile vines filled with only female flowers bearing many cucumbers. One of these is the Dasher II, perfect for our climate, which produces cucumbers also perfect for slicing. Similar varieties include Thunder, Daytona and Speedway, while the Sweet Success type is delicious and burp-free. Your best bet for pickling are the short, stocky and knobby Calypso, Jackson and Fancipak cucumbers.
Provided you use a trellis or screen and don’t let them run wild along the ground, these warm-season delights yield a substantial bounty for the small amount of space the plants use in your garden. One plant alone can yield at least 40 cucumbers. Plant them in hills with loose, loamy soil, and don’t worry if the sun shines on them all day – they like it. Good drainage, compost and a side dressing of ammonium nitrate (3/4 pound per 100 feet of row) combined with ample watering will make them thrive. During the dogs days of summer, it’s hard to beat a salad made with Creole tomatoes and fresh garden cucumbers.
FORK IN THE ROAD
FAVORITE SPIRIT IN ALEXANDRIA
In a recent poll conducted by Cenla Focus, Spirits Food and Friends was voted Best American Grill Restaurant and one of the best places to hear live music. This congenial establishment is an enclave dedicated to good eats and plain good fun. It’s laid-back and casual – who can resist this combination of great music and great food, especially if you’re in a summertime frame of mind?
The appetizers menu is a delicious sampler of choices such as shrimp remoulade (so perfect when the weather is so dang hot!); crisp and gooey cheese sticks; fried mushrooms (dip them chili sauce mixed with horseradish, and it’s like eating oysters); chicken or shrimp quesadilla, sweet potato fries or cheese fries.
A delicious entrée to choose after you’ve come in from the hot prairie plains of Cenla is the Black and White Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna. This tender fish, accompanied by a serving of flavorful grilled veggies, is seared to rareness, coated in a sesame seed crust, all topped with a ginger soy glaze in a mélange of flavors that blends perfectly like a good musical composition. If the hot weather hasn’t turned you away from heartier fare, don’t overlook the sandwiches. The Spirits Burger, made with half a pound of ground chuck, comes with the choice of provolone, Swiss or American cheese and bacon, sautéed mushrooms and onions. Live a little and choose all of the toppings. One of their house favorites, the Flatbread BBQ Po-Boy, also morphs into the American experience when ham and provolone cheese are added to the mix.