Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle.

I just returned from running some errands, and as I approached the back entrance of our neighborhood, I saw the perfectly ripened yellow and white blooms! Honeysuckle! Big bushes of it!

Back when our daughter was a little girl, she and I would watch that area every year, waiting for the honeysuckle to appear. But we didn’t dare approach it too early. From my childhood, I knew we needed to wait until it was just right…wait until it’s bursting with nectar and the fragrance is overwhelming. A few years ago, though, someone mowed down all the honeysuckle, and I haven’t seen it since…until recently. A few weeks ago, I noticed the first sign of it…the yellow buds…and I thought, “Is the honeysuckle really coming back? Just before our daughter goes off to college?” Since then, every time I drive past, I open the car window to look and sniff…and today, after an afternoon shower, it smelled perfect.

I had never really thought to investigate the honeysuckle habitat before today. For some reason, I always thought it was a southern thing, but after a little research, I learned it is definitely not just a southern thing. People all over the world use it for its medicinal purpose, and lots of people make simple syrup from it. I have never done that, but I’m up for the challenge!

When I was growing up in Alabama in the 1970s, we watched for three things as summer approached: lightning bugs (fireflies), backyard or roadside blackberries, and honeysuckle.

We knew summer was almost here when we saw our first lightning bug of the season. To this day, at the ripe age of 54, I still look out into the trees around our house as summer is approaching…watching for the first flash of a lightning bug. I haven’t seen one yet this year, but I’m watching. When I was a little girl, we would catch them and put them in Mason jars…poking holes in the top of the jar so they could get oxygen. We never kept them for longer than an hour or so, and we always released them. It was just fun to see how much they would glow in a jar.

As for the blackberries, at one of our houses, we had a big blackberry bush in the back corner of the yard. We would watch for the blooms and then wait for them to ripen before picking, but I only picked right on the leading edge of the bush. They were full of “stickers” (briars), and there was no way I was inviting that pain…not even for blackberries. I was also under the impression that snakes liked blackberries, so I was afraid of that too. I guess I thought the snakes wouldn’t hang out on the leading edge of the bush. If there were more ripened blackberries on the interior limbs of the bush, they went untouched by me…they likely rotted if no one else picked them, because I wasn’t sticking my arm in there to get them.

And then there was the honeysuckle…a sweet little treat that packed a lot of happiness and sunshine. We would go to the honeysuckle bushes/vines in our neighborhood and search for the ripest blooms. We knew the really ripe ones had the sweetest nectar. We would find the perfect flower and pick it whole…making sure to get the calyx (the little green bud that connects it to the stem). With the flower in one hand, we would pinch just above the calyx…not all the way through…just enough to break the edges. We’d then slowly slide the “style” (female part of the plant) out of the flower by gently pulling. As the end of the style approached, we could see the glorious nectar, or “honey.” Once we saw that little drop, we’d stick it to our tongues and taste the sweetness of summer! And that is the glory of honeysuckle! It’s a childhood treat.

As I mentioned before, when our daughter was a little girl…probably about four years old…I showed her how to get the honey from the honeysuckle, just as I had learned as a little girl. After that, she and I would invite neighborhood friends to walk up to the back entrance with us, sharing the glory of the honeysuckle with those who had never had it before. Hopefully, some of them remember how to do it.

Our daughter is not home tonight, but you can bet tomorrow, after brunch, we will be walking up to the honeysuckle at the back entrance of our neighborhood. It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I can’t think of a better gift than spending time harvesting honeysuckle with my 18-year-old daughter who is headed off to college 450 miles away in August. I think Mother’s Day is the perfect day to revisit the honeysuckle. For a little while, we will relive some precious moments from her childhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lemon Cucumbers? Yes, Please!

Lemon cucumbers? Yes, please!

Back in the spring, when we were first “sheltering in place” because of the COVID pandemic, I decided to order the seeds for my summer garden online. As soon as I searched a couple of different sites, I realized I was not the only person with that idea. With the pandemic, lots of people decided to grow their own food this year, so I had to pick from what was available…and the “pickings were slim.”

I ordered my usual varieties of sunflowers and added a few new varieties I had never grown before…more about those later. And for veggies, I wanted to order squash, zucchini, and other things I like, but because they were all sold out, I ordered a few regular green cucumbers…some “slicers” and some “garden sweet hybrids.” I ordered some corn to plant (which was terribly unsuccessful)…and watermelon seeds. And then I saw something I’d never seen before…seeds for growing Lemon Cucumbers, or as Ferry-Morse labeled them, Cucumber Lemons. In reality, they are cucumbers, so I prefer to call them Lemon Cucumbers. According to Health Benefits Times, it is also known as a Yellow Cucumber, an Apple Cucumber, or a Crystal Apple, but I prefer Lemon Cucumber. It’s part of the gourd family, and despite the lovely yellow color of the skin, it is not a lemon in any way. These unusual cucumbers are round and bright yellow, and they are slightly sweeter than a traditional cucumber…with a slightly earthy flavor. It also has health benefits…offering Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber…and they look really summery in a cucumber salad. You can see more of the health benefit and recipes here.

So way back in March, I seeded lots of flowers and vegetables, starting them in the pool house, but eventually bringing them into my very own dining room, where I had a little more space and could get to them more easily. When I felt it was warm enough outside, I transferred all my seedlings, and I was absolutely shocked at how many of them actually made it this year! Usually, I have about a 50% yield on transplanted seedlings, but this year, it was closer to 85% or even 90%! You might have read my piece titled Welcome to the Jungle earlier this year…and now you know why my backyard looks like a jungle.

The plants were prospering, it seemed, but the vegetables were late to fruit. But at the beginning of July, things started picking up. The green cucumbers started fruiting like crazy, and I noticed small yellow cucumbers on my Lemon Cucumber vines. The plants have become quite prolific, and I was able to slice my first Lemon Cucumber earlier this month…after watching a YouTube video about when to harvest them.

As it turns out, they are as tasty as I had hoped! I’ve shared some with my next-door neighbor, a friend across town, and a friend who lives in Alabama. She sent some tomatoes, eggplants, okra, and peas from her garden, and sadly, all I had to offer in return was a few Lemon Cucumbers, but hopefully, she will enjoy them as much as I have. There is no way she will enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed what she sent me, but maybe I can make it up to her next year, because I plan to grow them again! So far, they’re growing like crazy cakes, and I love to grow anything that produces like these things do!

I’ve been making lemon cucumber sandwiches and cucumber salad. I’ve been putting lemon cucumbers in my water and in my salads. Does anything taste more like summer than fresh cucumbers? I’m hoping my plants will continue to produce for another month or so, because I’d love to keep enjoying these delicious yellow cucumbers as long as possible. For cucumber salad recipes, click here.

If you’re intrigued and want to plant them next year, I’m guessing you’ll be successful, because I do not have a green thumb. If I can grow them so well, I think anyone probably can! In the meantime, I’m sharing lemon cucumbers with anyone who asks! And when I share a lemon cucumber, I feel like I’m sharing some joy…because gardening has brought me great joy this summer, and the lemon cucumbers are a surprise, tasty treat.