Old-Time Cucumbers and Onions Recipe

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, August 15, 1911: Went to Watsontown this afternoon to get some nick-knacks to take to the picnic. Makes me to mad Carrie isn’t going after all our planning. I have a presentiment that perhaps no one will be there except its originator, but the morrow alone can tell.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What could nick-knacks for a picnic have been? . . . Crepe paper? . . . paper nut cups? Neither of these items seems exactly like a nick-knack or right for a picnic, and they may not have even existed a hundred years ago.

Why isn’t Grandma’s friend Carrie Stout going to come? Carrie had been involved in the planning since the very beginning. Did Grandma and Carrie have a disagreement? Was Carrie grounded for some reason?

I wonder if Grandma had begun to makes foods for the picnic. An excellent old-time food for a picnic in August is Cucumbers and Onions.

Cucumbers and Onions

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 cups cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cup onion, sliced

Stir together the vinegar, sugar, and water in a large bowl. Add cucumber and onion; gently stir to coat vegetables with liquid. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This is one of my favorite old recipes. I frequently make Cucumbers and Onions during the late summer and early fall. The vinegar, sugar, and water are in a 1:1:1 proportion—and, depending upon how many cucumbers and onions I have, I will vary the amount of syrup that I mix up. The liquid should almost cover the vegetables. (Many old recipes are based on easy to remember proportions and were never written down.)

It is okay if there is a layer or so of the sliced cucumbers and onions above the liquid because after a few hours the amount of liquid will increase as some of the liquid comes out of the vegetables.

12 thoughts on “Old-Time Cucumbers and Onions Recipe

  1. How delightful!
    Thanks for including the link to your blog on the New York Times’ comments section today (re: Tamara Adler).

    1. I second C.E. Harley’s reply, and look forward to reading your grandmother’s diary. She would have been slightly older than my own grandmother, so perhaps I’ll get a glimpse of what her life was like.

  2. Lol, yes, finally a useful link included in the NYT comments section. Sounds like a fascinating blog, I can’t wait to read it!

  3. Found your blog through your comment on NYT. In Barbados, this pickle is called “souse” and the onion and cucumbers are eaten with pigs’ feet.

  4. My grandmother made this a couple times a week all summer, though she made it without the sugar. It was specifically apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water, then salt and pepper. She would mix it up in a huge mixing bowl and use half a dozen of her cucumbers fresh from her garden and three of the huge sweet onions that grew in the area, cut into rings. It was so simple but so, so good, and accompanied most lunches and dinners.

    1. The recipes were slightly different across our families, but your memories are very similar to mine. My family also frequently ate cucumbers and onions during the summer – and my mother would just mix it up in a large bowl using equal amounts of vinegar, water, and sugar (and she never used a recipe). Sometimes simple is best.

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