Lemon-Ginger Chicken Salad …

… means summer to me. So does a blooming August Beauty gardenia bush, one of which happens to be putting on a show right now next to my deck stairs.* At various times through spring and summer, this former modest potted plant becomes a tarty six-foot-tall Vargas pin-up, exuding clouds of perfume from perfect spirals of creamy white petals. Can you smell the gardenias? Then it’s time to make this.

August Beauties in September

Lemon-Ginger Chicken Salad

My mother-in-law found this recipe many years ago on the back of a jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. I got it from her via telephone, transcribing her dictation on a scrap of orange paper. (Yes, kids, we used to record information by scrawling on the cave wall with the end of a burned stick  with pen and paper.) I’ve made it countless times since, and if one more drop of errant lemon juice blots the ink on that paper, an essential measurement will be lost forever. Hellmann’s still has a similar recipe on its web site, but company cooks eliminated the sugar and ground ginger and reduced the amount of mayo. (What? Don’t they want America to buy more Hellmann’s?) It’s not the same, so how can it be as good? I’ll stick with the original.

1/2 cup mayonnaise (reduced-fat or regular)

1/4 cup sour cream (reduced-fat or regular)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cooked chicken breast meat, shredded or chopped to equal about 2 cups

1 cup seedless green grapes, cut in halves

1 cup chopped celery

Garnish: lettuce and sliced almonds

Put first seven ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together to make dressing. In a large bowl, combine chicken, grapes, and celery, mixing thoroughly. Pour dressing over chicken mixture, folding it in with a spatula to coat the chicken well. Cover; chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

To serve, dollop onto a bed of clean lettuce leaves and sprinkle sliced almonds over the top. Makes about 4 servings.

*In the interest of truth in reporting, those stairs are temporarily absent this week, as is most of the rest of the deck, parts of which had warped to an unsafe degree and are in the process of being rebuilt. Want to confuse a four-pound chihuahua? Leave the lowest two steps intact over the weekend and remove the rest.

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