It’s hot and I think differently about cooking and food when the weather turns stuffy and warm. I want cold comfort. Oddly, lately, I have thought about childhood summers and the food we ate and cold things we drank.
Like potato salad, just bite-sized bits of boiled potato with bits of mashed up hardboiled egg in it, and mild onion cut up and lots of mayonnaise. There is apparently an aversion to mayo these days among some, maybe connected to the aversion to eggs which is apparently diminishing in light of the value of choline, described as a vitamin-like substance that helps prevent memory loss and depression, supports various brain functions and can also be obtained by eating liver, which is not a summer food, in bottles as a supplement, and in eggs which you can devil, make egg salad sandwiches out of, and add to piles of greens.
I like the egg route for my choline intake, thank you. Actually, I liked eggs before I ever heard about choline which was only a week or so ago from my friend Linda who has cheerfully returned to daily egg eating after a dreary era of taking it really easy with them.
Big pasta salads are summer food. Boil up a bunch of macaroni, shells, bows, penne, what have you and add stuff: grated carrot, chopped celery, cucumber, grated zucchini, leftover cooked peas, broccoli, cauliflower, bits of peppers of any sort, chopped pickles, dilly beans, scallions, leftover cooked chicken, ham, tuna. Add your favorite salad dressing or good old mayonnaise, toss, and go sit on the porch to eat it.
The First Cucumber Sandwich of the summer season is a favorite of mine. This requires the first cucumber, of course, which I have been looking for eagle-eyed since the plants set fruit, and bread soft enough to nestle around the sliced cucumber.
Bread in a cucumber sandwich is merely a conveyance for cucumbers. If it is too hearty the bread dominates, and the sliced cucumbers can slither out of the sandwich as you eat it. I use a peeler to cut the cukes, so that I end up with a dandy pile of cucumber shavings which I can pile onto buttered or mayonnaised bread and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Heavenly. Sit on the porch to eat it, preferably on the bottom step so that as it drips, which it mostly surely will, the drops end up on the ground and not on the floor or your lap.
Before too long there will be fresh corn out of the garden, and tomatoes for B.L.T.’s also drippy and eaten on the porch.
Cold summer squash soup, preferably curried, is summer food. Steam the squash, any kind but I like yellow patty pan best of all, add chicken broth, a bit of curry powder, put it in the blender, give it a whirl to puree it, add a bit of sour cream. Salt and pepper. Ahh.
How about steamed mussels and shandy? The first time I ever ate mussels was in Sakonnet, R.I., with a friend who had spent a college term in Brussels where she ate mussels galore. We went to the Sakonnet Point shore at lowish tide with canvas boat bags and picked mussels off rock-weed covered rocks, itself a pretty sublime summer experience. We took them back to her parents’ old summer cottage where we steamed them up. I was astounded and transfixed and decided I liked them better than clams. While they were cooking, we drank shandy—a bracing combination of beer and lemonade in whatever proportion you enjoy, perfect for summer drinking.
These days I pick my mussels up at Marshall Cove Aquaculture run by Shey and Josh Conover here on Islesboro. They are clean as a whistle and some sweet. And these days you can buy shandy all bottled and in a six or 12-pack. Doesn’t seem as sporting as mixing your own.
I’ve been thinking about bug juice lately, too. This was a childhood treat in summer made with canned frozen concentrates of grape and orange juices and lemonade. My mom concocted it for summer company picnics and other more-or-less special occasions because we didn’t do soda pop at our house. All you need is one can of each diluted as usual (one can concentrate to three cans water). The miracle of bug juice is that it still tastes exactly as I remember it did in my childhood, now upwards of six decades ago, remarkable in our era of reformulated foods. (Oh, that Vienna Fingers would taste as they did at my grandmother’s house.)
Hot dogs cooked over a fire. A bowl of potato chips. Chicken salad. Root beer float. Fried clams.
Soon enough we will be back to baked beans and hearty soups, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I’m in no hurry for them.
Sandy Oliver is a food historian who gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro.