The Eternal Significance of Cucumbers

June 23, 2004 | 37 comments
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This evening the Oman family ate cucumbers in triumph. The euphoria came from the fact that these cucumbers were the first fruits of our garden. We (meaning mainly Heather) have toiled in the soil, mixing the sweat of our brow with earth, water, and sky to bring forth vegetables! This is heady, elemental one-with-the-earth kind of stuff. The cucumbers, of course, taste infinitely better than those pathetic, commercially grown things you buy in the store. Which brings me, of course, to the apparent decline in prophetic counsel on gardens.

President Kimball was serious about gardens. There was a time when growing squash was a mark of righteousness and orthodoxy. The Church distribution center even produced pictures of happy Mormon families tending their watermelons. My dad likes to tell the story of how as a high counselor in an inner-city Salt Lake stake in the late 1970s he would invoke President Kimball in his monthly high council talks, exhorting members to clean up their weed and garbage strewn yards and plant some zucchini.

The “thou shalt garden” counsel, however, seems to have declined of late. When was the last time you heard a general conference address that associated following the prophet with weeding your sweet peas?

So what are we to make of the gardening counsel and other prophetic guidance that slowly fades from view? Here are some possible approaches:

1. This is just advice and was probably based on the fact that President Kimball had fond memories of gardening in Arizona growing up. Don’t worry about. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

2. This is actually an interpretation of some underlying gospel principle. The point is to find the true spirit of the counsel. Stop worrying about your zucchini production.

3. Gardens are necessary for our salvation. We need to remember this, even if it isn’t emphasized. You non-cultivators are going to hell. Ha! Ha! Ha!

4. Prophetic counsel is inspired and religiously normative, but only so long as the prophet keeps harping on it.

Thoughts? Cucumber recipes?

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37 Responses to The Eternal Significance of Cucumbers

  1. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 9:28 pm

    Cucumbers with lime juice and onions are very, very tasty. You can add a little salt or tobasco if you like.

  2. Kristine on June 23, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    “clean up their weed and garbage strewn yards and plant some zucchini”

    Zucchini *is* a weed!!

  3. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    A pinch of sugar with those cucumbers is often just right, and you can substitute vinegar (any kind, from seasoned Japanese, to infused, to apple cider) for the lime juice.

    I vote for Nate’s reason number 2. Or should I sustain it?

  4. Ben Huff on June 23, 2004 at 10:00 pm

    Here’s a speculation –

    3.1) We have graver problems to address now than we did under President Kimball, and the GAs have decided to spare the airtime they spent on gardening for something else. But that doesn’t make gardening any less holy!

    We were meant to enjoy the good things of the Earth, to delight the tongue and gladden the heart, and the poor simulacra of vegetables that generally show up in today’s supermarkets can’t possibly be what that scripture was talking about!

  5. sid on June 23, 2004 at 10:00 pm

    or prepare them indian style. Chop cucumbers into thin slices. take plain nofat yogurt in a bowl. Add som water, and beat with a whisk, till you get a smooth sauce like texture. Add chopped cucumbers, chopped scallions, add some cumin powder, fresh coriander salt and pepper to taste, and mix well, and then Enjoy!!!!!
    try it, and lemme me know whatyou think of my improvised recepie

  6. Clark on June 23, 2004 at 10:03 pm

    I suspect part of the change is due to the changing demographics. More and more people live in cities with yards that don’t easily accommodate gardens.

    Which leads me to a tangentially related point. Why is it in Utah that they place these *huge* houses on small lots? I can understand wanting large houses. We have larger than average families but presumably want the space per person our gentile brothers and sisters do. But lot sizes are *so* small. Further there appears to be a strong desire to not want yards at all – or if you have them have them taken care of by someone else.

    Is this related to your point Nate?

    BTW – all my cucumbers died because the soil was too sandy. But I’ve got a bunch new seedlings started.

  7. sid on June 23, 2004 at 10:04 pm

    Adding some tomatoes chopped into small pieces into abouve recipe also works real well

  8. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 10:13 pm

    Clark: two possible answers to your question about lot sizes: (1) move-ins from California (where large houses on postage-stamp lots has been common for a long time) have been willing to buy such lots, so developers have been willing to provide them; (2) reducing the size of lots and increasing the size of homes on them, and therefore also the selling-price, with a consequent significant increase in the profit per developed acre, is a reasonable decision from any developer’s point of view.

  9. Greg on June 23, 2004 at 10:23 pm

    Clark is surely right that increasing urbanization of Church membership has something to do with the decline of gardening admonitions. There are entire stakes where noone has a yard. I haven’t had a yard since 1992, the year I moved out of my parents house. Interestingly, other urban societies have dealt with this problem creatively. In Switzerland (and elsewhere, I’m sure), many apartment-dwellers, and even some homeowners, maintain small gardens within large, gated plots of land in the rural countryside. On the weekend, instead of heading to a lake or going hiking, many Swiss families hang out in their gardens, harvesting their herbs and vegetables.

    As for big house/small lot — that’s not just a Utah thing. It is what developers build and (apparently) what the market wants. In the big metropolitan regions, its mostly just the older, first ring suburbs that have sizable yards. And even there, it is quite common that a modest size old rancher is torn down to make way for a big faux colonial or tudor with a three car garage.

    Sorry, no cucumber recipes.

  10. Rob on June 23, 2004 at 11:47 pm

    Cukes rock! And so does Pres. Kimball.

    Gardening supports many gospel principles. Can you get to the CK without a garden. Sure. But can you be self-sufficient, remove yourself from entangling inequalities of agricultural production, and free yourself from dangerous pesticides and herbicides without gardens? Much harder.

    And here’s an idea…why not take some of that useless space at the local ward building…you know, the grass and foundation plantings were deacons play football after mutual, and create some community gardens for the members. Teach some organic gardening classes for the community. Call a ward gardening specialist….I’ll bet many folks would find it easier to invite their friends to church to try some homegrown tomatoes than to sit through the mystery sacrament meeting talk of the week…at least initially.

    Can we build Zion without gardens?

  11. Heather Oman on June 24, 2004 at 12:41 am

    Our cucumbers and other related veggies (sadly, the carrots were eaten by rabbits) were actually grown from a pot. We have no usable space for a vegetable garden in our small but servicable yard, so I literally just plunked down some pots in the sunniest place around our house, which happens to be our driveway. So I think with a little creative planning, almost anybody in any kind of living situation have some kind of green life growing. I’ve never had much luck with herbs placed in “a sunny window”, though.

  12. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 12:44 am

    Heather: ouch! How can you cook without fresh herbs?

  13. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 12:48 am

    No cucumbers for us this year. But the tomatoes, green peppers, and cantaloupes are coming along nicely. Like the Omans, we didn’t have any arable ground to use, so we bought a plastic swimming pool, punched holes in it, filled it with dirt, propped it up on bricks, and planted. Melissa also has tons of herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, etc.) growing in pots.

    Generally speaking Rob, I’m more moved than persuaded by your determination to see Zion realized as a real pacifist alternative to the warlike wickedness of the modern world. (Very bluntly, I’m doubtful that any attempt to flee from evil in a political sense isn’t delusional; an individual or family may renounce the world, but not a polity, and polities are in my view too tied up in necessary goods to be rejected outright.) I’m much more in sync with what you have to say when you case Zion in environmental and socio-economic terms, however. While I’m not a Green or a Wendell Berry disciple, strictly speaking, I’m enough of a populist and a Jeffersonian to recognize that tending to a garden of one’s own is much more than just one way out of many to get at some vague set of gospel principles. Gardening and farming–like many other, but certainly not all, humble crafts–involve you in a way of life and a set of social and economic relationships that are, more often than not, quite superior in a moral sense to those associated with practically any other kind of work. (I definitely include my own profession on that list.) To the extent that modern specialized economies have undermined farming and gardening as a viable way of life, or even as a productive hobby, they’ve done the world a disservice. Growing things on your own is good. It’s not the only good thing, but it is better than most others.

    Next year, whether in the ground or in an additional swimming pool: onions, zucchini and, if we can manage it, strawberries.

  14. Heather Oman on June 24, 2004 at 12:58 am

    Jim-Nate and I are battling over the computer to see who can respond to you first! It’s sad when an entire family is addicted to the same vice! He of course, wants to know your opinion on politics. I would just like to know if you have any tips on growing fresh herbs so I can start cooking with them, which, judging from your vehement response to my lack of green thumb in that area, is clearly the only way to go.

  15. Heather Oman on June 24, 2004 at 1:04 am

    Russell–brillant idea with the swimming pool! Can’t wait to try it sometime. And any tips for growing herbs from you, too?

  16. Jim F. on June 24, 2004 at 1:10 am

    Heather, I wish I had a lot of hints. Perhaps the most important one is to neither to water or fertilize them too often. Most herbs are species of weeds that smell good. They don’t like too much good soil or water. However, the usual problem with herbs in a sunny window is that many a sunny window is so hot that the pots dry out quickly and then roast the plants in them. In windows, avoid ceramic pots because water evaporates from them more quickly. Find a way to shade the plants from the hottest part of the day–or leave the window cracked open to keep the temperature down. But try planting your herbs the same way you planted your vegetables, in containers outside. I grow most of mine (various kinds of basil, which I love; a couple of kinds of thyme; tarragon; rosemary; oregano; chives; dill; parsley) in a “kitchen garden” by my front door, but most of those would grow well in containers. During the winter I usually try to move a few indoors. The thyme, rosemary, and others will make it through the winter and can be used if you cover them so that you can get the snow off easily–though I doubt you’ll see much snow in Arkansas. Things I bring indoors don’t usually do well here in the winter. Too dry, not enough light in the kitchen window.

  17. Russell Arben Fox on June 24, 2004 at 1:45 am

    Heather, I second Jim’s comments about the herbs. Melissa’s herb garden is in five pots on our backdoor steps. Not too much water, and not too much sun and heat; keep them someplace where they’ll only get sun part of the day, and that should be sufficient.

  18. Greg on June 24, 2004 at 1:53 am

    Well, Heather and Russell, I feel chastened for using the lack of a yard as an excuse all this time. Though I don’t have room for a plastic swimming pool, I certainly can fit some pots of some sort on the balcony off our bedroom. You’ve inspired me to make a home depot run this weekend.

  19. Aaron Brown on June 24, 2004 at 2:49 am

    I absolutely loathe cucumbers. There is no other food that I despise so thoroughly. Isn’t it strange to hate a food that basically has no flavor?

    Aaron B

  20. Thom on June 24, 2004 at 10:40 am

    I’m with Aaron on the cucumbers. On my mission in Thailand, it became apparent to me quite quickly that Thais garnish every dish with cucumbers, which was sad since I can’t stand them. Sometimes, I was often still hungry at the end of a meal, and so every few months I would give the cucumbers another try, but to no avail. I want to like them, since my wife still tries putting them in salads ALL THE TIME, but hey? What can I do? Strangely though, I REALLY like dill pickles.

  21. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 11:47 am

    I have to vehemently disagree with Aaron and Thom about cucumbers. On the streets of Istanbul they sell salted cucumbers like hot-dogs. Absolutely wonderful…

  22. D. Fletcher on June 24, 2004 at 11:57 am

    Sigh. Of all things, a garden is one of the more appealing of the non-doctrinal GA applications. You all know I’ve got many problems with the commandments as laid out by the GAs, and yet I wish I could have a garden.

    (I live in an apartment on the 13th floor of a building in Manhattan, with no direct sunlight.)

  23. Adam Greenwood on June 24, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    Nate,
    I think our garden theology is too much ignored. As I commented just yesterday, figuring out why gardening is holy would go a long way towards, for me at least, explaining why moving into space, or not, would be a good idea.

  24. lyle on June 24, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    yeah, and if Adam’s theory on space is correct…those MOs had better learn how to do hydroponics better.

    actually, the feeling the spirit experience I mentioned in brief re: Ben-Gurion in the Negev was just as related to “the desert blossoming as a rose” due to drip irrigation, etc. as anything else…

  25. Heather Oman on June 24, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    Jim and Russell, thanks for the tips on herbs. I think the heavy Arkansas spring rains did a number on our herbs, and I’m not enough of a gardener (yet!:)) to realize they could so easily be overwatered.

  26. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    For the record, I personally subscribe to (3) above.

  27. Chad too on June 24, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    I love cukes!

    A quick family recipe: Put thinly sliced cukes in a ziploc bag with a sliced bermuda onion. Add rice vinegar and soy sauce to cover. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and let marinade overnight.

    If you’ve got them handy, adding 1/4cup of pureed raspberries or blackberries to this is really good too.

  28. D. Fletcher on June 24, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    I myself enjoy cucumber sandwiches (a la The Importance of Being Earnest). White bread (Pepperidge Farm is best), topped with mayonnaise, cucumbers, perhaps watercress, and a touch of paprika. Voila! We’re suddenly Edwardian.

  29. Rob on June 24, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Russell: “I’m more moved than persuaded by your determination to see Zion realized as a real pacifist alternative to the warlike wickedness of the modern world. (Very bluntly, I’m doubtful that any attempt to flee from evil in a political sense isn’t delusional”

    Before I answer this and risk offending a nice, healthy, crispy thread…let me just say that a cucumber side salad was often a real treat next to the obligatory rice and protein-of-the-day Ecuadorian meal from my mission. And cucumbers with a creamy dill dressing! Yowsers, you can’t beat it.

    Now, for Russell…why is it that you see my interest in building Zion as an act of separatism? I agree that we can’t flee into the wilderness and live isolated from the larger political and economic world. However, I do think we can refashion those connections.

    Right now, you could buy a large piece of land in Nebraska and create a new town. It would be part of a state and county government, but you could do it. You could maybe even do it with alternative energy sources. You could do it with cooperative local economies (using local and standard U.S. currencies). Would this be separatist? Maybe, but not necessarily.

    And couldn’t you build Zion in your ward…wherever you were, intermingled with everyone else by creating a sustainable lifestyle? To the degree that our modern economy is emeshed in inequalities and unsustainable ecological and economic practices, we might have to separate ourselves from those things (and gardening could help). But that doesn’t mean we have to run off to go camping in the Canadian tiaga far from the rule of law.

    I think our greatest condemnation as a people is that we haven’t taken the institutions that we have and created ideal Mormon communities, neighborhoods, or support groups. We probably have most of the tools we need, but we seem to lack the will…and the homegrown cukes to make it all worthwhile!

  30. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:03 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  31. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:04 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  32. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:07 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  33. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:08 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  34. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:09 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  35. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 3:09 am

    “Man was lost and saved in a garden.” – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (a great book, with a many references to gardens in the American Southwest)
    Considering that gardens are the scene of the most important moments of our theology, it would be a real shame if we didn’t have any hands-on experience with them ourselves.

  36. Catherine on June 25, 2004 at 8:55 am

    OK, Really, I know how to use a browser! Sorry for the three extra iterations of that last one.

  37. Heather Oman on June 25, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    Catherine–

    The comment was worth the repetition. I had never considered that point before. Thanks!