A Summery Spread That's As Cool As A Cucumber It's summertime and cucumbers are abundant. If you don't feel like making pickles, why not try Benedictine? This blend of cream cheese, cucumbers and onion is a Kentucky classic, dating back a century to a Louisville tearoom.
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A Summery Spread That's As Cool As A Cucumber

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A Summery Spread That's As Cool As A Cucumber

A Summery Spread That's As Cool As A Cucumber

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It's summertime now and a lot of gardens are overwhelmed with cucumbers. Now, you can put cucumbers in salads. You can pickle them. You can use them as cocktail garnish, or for something totally different, you can mix them with cream cheese to create the traditional Louisville spread that's called Benedictine.

Erica Peterson of member station WFPL has more on a classic summer treat that's part of our series, Weekend Picnic.

ERICA PETERSON, BYLINE: It sounds like an unlikely combination: Take cream cheese, combine it with cucumber or cucumber juice and a touch of onion. Make a sandwich or eat it as a dip. That's Benedictine.

GWEN POTTS: This is delicious. It's creamy, it's just chock full with cream cheese.

PETERSON: Gwen Potts takes a bite of the spread. She's a self-proclaimed Benedictine aficionado who's enjoyed the food for six decades.

POTTS: The best thing to eat Benedictine on is just white bread. No special bread. It just takes away from the Benedictine.

PETERSON: Potts grew up in Louisville. She says for the first 18 years of her life, Benedictine was like ketchup. She thought it was everywhere until she took a spring break trip to Florida while in college.

POTTS: We couldn't imagine having lunch without Benedictine. We went from store to store saying where's your Benedictine? And they just looked at us. It's the first time I realize the whole world didn't know about Benedictine.

PETERSON: And years later, that's still pretty much the case. But this creamy, cold cucumber spread has persisted in Kentucky ever since Jennie Benedict invented it around the turn of the 20th Century. Benedict was a famous Louisville caterer. In 1911, she opened a tearoom on South Fourth Street in downtown Louisville.

Back then, that was the city's bustling commercial center packed with stores, cafes, theaters and hotels. Today it's a few boutiques and several wig shops. Susan Reigler and I stop on the street in front of what used to be Benedict's address.

So, that is 554.

SUSAN REIGLER: OK. Obviously not the original building.

PETERSON: Reigler spent a decade as a restaurant critic for Louisville's newspaper, the Courier-Journal. When Jennie Benedict's "Blue Ribbon Cookbook" was re-released a few years ago, Reigler wrote the introduction. She says Benedict's role in Louisville's culinary history was huge, and a lot of the city's flavors can trace their roots back to her recipes. Of course some of Benedict's concoctions have fallen out of favor, like calf brains and peptonized oysters for the sick.

But Reigler says Benedictine has endured.

REIGLER: I think it's just very different. When you think about it, it's very refreshing, it's a light spread if you think about cream cheese and then cucumber juice. What could really be, you know, more light and delicate than cucumber juice?

PETERSON: One source of contention among Louisville chefs is whether to include the two drops of green food coloring that Benedict used in her recipe. The dye lets people know that it's not just a plain cream cheese spread, but it's no longer popular with chefs like Kathy Cary who prefer more natural ingredients.

Cary has owned Lilly's for the past 25 years. It's a restaurant that specializes in Kentucky cuisine and for her the dish is truly a way to showcase both local cucumbers and local traditions.

KATHY CARY: And the way I make mine, mine really about the texture of the cucumbers, celebrating the cucumbers. It's obviously no dye, no food coloring. And it's filled with texture, and some crunch to the cucumbers.

PETERSON: Some serve it in tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off, some of the dip. Cary usually puts hers into a hearty sandwich with homemade mayonnaise, bacon, bibb lettuce and sprouts. It's best accompanied with another Kentucky signature, bourbon. For NPR News, I'm Erica Peterson in Louisville, Kentucky.

SIMON: And you can find a couple of Benedictine recipes on our website and those for other dishes in our series on our website, npr.org.

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