Consider the Cucumber
"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."
- Samuel Johnson
I respectfully disagree. Collectively, local cucumbers are in peak season form from late Spring through early Autumn. Some varieties start earlier, some later. Claims of bitterness in cucumbers are now few, because the gene responsible for this has been all but bred out. Occasionally a bitter cuke will pop up- usually a result of stress on the vine, i.e., lack of water, or spike in heat. This rarely occurs, and it's generally with last of season, conventionally grown basic cucumbers (from Mexico in early spring, from California in late fall). But we're talking peak season, locally grown heirlooms here- no bitterness, just pure cool joy and crunchy pleasure.
HISTORY: Of the family Cucurbit, Cucumbers have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. Thought to have originated in South India, used in Europe for centuries, Columbus introduced them to Haiti in 1494, soon after which they made land in North America.
STORAGE: Cucumbers are mostly water (96%): shelf life is short. Many commercially grown cukes are waxed, to help preserve them through the rigors of shipping and storage- not an issue for these Farm-fresh, local, in season heirlooms. Ideal storage temperature is 45-50 F, in high humidity. Use quickly to ensure optimum quality.
USE: Ideal paired with seafood. And there's a sea of salads. Austrians and Germans name it Gurkensalat, in Denmark it's Agurkesalat, and in Poland, Salata Mizerja. While not critical for these tender heirlooms, these recipes usually call for peeling, seeding and salting to remove moisture (some add sugar and vinegar). From here add some yogurt and a touch of vinegar and go the Indian route for Riata, to Turkey with Cacik, or go Greek with Tsatsiki. Make your own Cucurbit International Moment. Cukes are fine for soup, sauté (dreamy with herb of choice and poached fish), any salsa-type combo; think melons, mangoes, grapes. Some heat from chilies and kick from allium or ginger plays well here. Mint, chervil, chives dill and tarragon are all particularly complementary with cucumbers. Combine with tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and herbs for a refreshing cold pasta twist; feta or mozzarella, your choice. Add pesto for a warm pasta cucumber combo, yum!
Here is a descriptive list of some fantastic varieties to seek out- a cucumber compendium!
Striking looking, with ribbed, light green skin. Cut on the bias, renders very distinct and beautiful
slices. Tends to grow in a spiraled pattern. Thin skinned, but in a good way, firm flesh.
Well, it looks a lot like a lemon! Lemon shaped, Beautiful, light yellow skin. Perfect halved, scooped out, for use as a delivery vehicle system for chilled cucumber soup, cucumber granita, a cucumber/melon salsa, or any cucumber-centric salad.
This particular variety features very small seeds, with a very high flesh/seed ratio: meaty cylinders
these. Tender, edible skin. Crisp texture and a distinct flavor reminiscent of hazelnut- no kidding! A clear cuke winner, Size-wise, about 1/3 of your basic, hothouse/English cuke.
Painted Serpent Cucumbers
A firm fleshed Armenian type featuring beautiful ribbed, striped light/dark green skin. As with Armenian cukes, shape is whorled, or spiraled. Delicate, edible skin means you can serve them with their bi-colored skin showing prominently. Loving them now combined with ripe avocado, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and watercress.