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Diving Into the World of Cucumbers

Indian cucumbers ripened before tomatoes this year, fitting for our Indian summer. But did you know that all cucumbers are Indian?

While bagging some baby greens from the Bloomfield Farms stand at the Mill Valley Farmers Market, I couldn't help but notice these giant orange cylindrical things on one of their tables.

"What are those?" I asked.

"It's an Indian cucumber," I was told. "They're good. It's been so cold [that] our cucumbers came in before our tomatoes this year."

Apparently their Petaluma farm saw about as much sun as my backyard garden. I might not even harvest a tomato this year unless a long 90-degree Indian summer saves the day.

Is it fitting that I write about Indian cucumbers just as Indian summer has finally made its late arrival? Well, it turns out that all cucumbers are from India and the expression, Indian summer is decidedly American, in reference to American Indians. But I still like the correlation.

I've seen a round yellow lemon cucumber but never a giant orange cucumber. I sliced it up and dipped it, as suggested by my Bloomfield Farms friends, in a good buttermilk ranch dressing (see recipe below). And just if you're wondering, a giant orange Indian cucumber tastes like a cucumber. Crisp and watery.

Cucumbers are a warm season fruit, related to the gourd and the squash. They ripen in late summer and early fall, also known as "silly season." In case you didn't know, silly season is in the late summer, when news is slow. People (and in England, the parliament) are on vacation, and news stories trend toward the silly or even farcical in the hopes of grabbing some dwindling attention. In many languages, strangely, the silly season is called "cucumber time."

Cucumbers grow on a creeping vine that has large leaves, forming a canopy over the fruit like pumpkin leaves do. And like tomatoes and squash, cucumbers are usually referred to and prepared as vegetables in savory dishes. I still call them vegetables even if they are fruit.

There are three main varieties of cucumber: slicing, pickling and burpless. Slicing are grown to be eaten fresh in the unripe green form. When cucumbers become ripe they turn yellow and are too bitter and sour to eat. These are long and have smooth skin.

Pickling cucumbers are grown for their uniformity, are shorter than slicing pickles and have bumps and black dotted spines.

Burpless, which I had never heard of before, is a variety that is grown to be easy to digest. They have a more delicate skin and few seeds. Some varieties of cucumber apparently are known for giving people gas.

There are all kinds of cucumbers all derived from India but cultivated and named from East Asian to Armenian, Persian, Lebanese, English gerkins and a remarkably many more. After some research, I believe that the cucumber I came across could have been a Kekiri. But as it is usually found in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, not Petaluma, I could easily be quite wrong. Sri Lankan's use it cooked in a spicy curry and I ate mine fresh dipped in ranch dressing. Either sounds tasty. 


Indian Cucumber and Ranch Dressing

  • 1 sliced Indian Cucumber (or any slicing cucumber)

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (Adapted from Pioneerwoman.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove (to 2 Cloves) Garlic
  • Salt To Taste
  • 1/4 cup Italian Flat-leaf Parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Chives
  • 1 cup (Real) Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • Buttermilk (as Needed To Desired Consistency)
  • White Vinegar (optional, To Taste)
  • Fresh Dill (optional, To Taste)

Directions:

Mince the garlic with a knife and then sprinkle about an 1/8 to ¼ teaspoons of salt on it and mash it into a paste with a fork. Chop the parsley, chives and any of the optional herbs very finely and add to the garlic.

In a bowl combine all ingredients, adding other optional ingredients as you wish, tasting frequently and adjusting seasonings as needed. Chill for a couple of hours before serving, thin with milk or buttermilk if desired.

Dena Cornett October 19, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Looks delicious. BTW, we had a productive Petaluma garden, with lemon cucumbers aplenty, and over 1,600 lbs of heirloom tomatoes. A lot of work, considering we live/work in Marin!

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