I love cucumbers. I seriously love cucumbers. If we were playing the “Name Your Favorite Vegetable” game and someone asked me, “Alexis, what is your favorite raw vegetable?”, I’d say, “Cucumbers.” Hands down, cucumbers. Every time.
What do I like about cucumbers? They’re watery and crunchy and satisfying, easy to eat, and I love the different types of cucumbers you can get, especially the bright yellow “lemon” cucumbers you can eat out of hand just like an apple. And not only are they good plain, but they’re a delight in some of my favorite salads: the delicious and omnipresent cucumber-onion-tomato salad of my youth, or as the star of my current favorite, dressed with chili oil, soy sauce, garlic, and a little brown rice vinegar, if you please.
And of course, in addition to eating them raw, cucumbers also help me satisfy my desire to do a little “putting up” each summer. Marisa McClellan, in her book “Food in Jars,” has THE best recipe for bread and butter pickles - yes, even those of you (read: me) who do not like bread and butter pickles or sweet pickles from the store will adore these pickles. (The recipe is available on her blog, too.) I have always been a dill baby at heart, though, and so was (ultimately) thrilled a couple of years back when my husband finally convinced me to have a go at fermenting our own pickles. Home-fermented pickles get their sourness from lacto-fermentation (the friendly bacteria that live all over your kitchen), as opposed to pickles that have simply been soaked in vinegar. I admit that I was a little creeped out by the method at first (thus my initial reluctance: “What?! You just LEAVE them on the counter and let them grow bacteria?!?). They do get to looking pretty sketchy as they’re fermenting, but they’re sooo good when they’re done.
Not only do I find cucumbers delicious, but they also give me a sense of satisfaction and pride, since they’re the only vegetable I’ve actually managed to grow successfully in every place that the Army has sent us over the last 10 years. So, of course, when we moved to New Mexico, I planted cucumbers. And with the enormous amount of space in the hoop house that we restored to operation, I could plant as many as I wanted.
I do love cucumbers. Or, at least that’s how I thought I felt about cucumbers until about 3 weeks ago when my first New Mexico cucumber plants began to produce. I was so excited the first night when we brought in 3 little specimens about the length of my palm and enjoyed them on our salads. And the next day there were 3 again, hurrah! And then 4, and 7, and then 13, and 22, and 28… and then I quit counting because, oh my, what was I gonna do with so many cucumbers?!?
I tried to give them to people - relatives, neighbors, people from out of town - but it wasn’t enough. I’d come out with an enormous bag and they’d say “Oh, I’ll take 4.” Four! Come on, people! My fridge is about to be overcome with Cucurbitaceae and you want four!?
(I know some of you are wondering right now how many cucumber plants I have. The truth is, I don’t know. There are 16 hills, most of which have 2 plants, but some have 3. Answer: More than you should probably plant for two normal people.)
And then one morning last week, as we neared full cuke inundation, my husband said, “Why don’t you fry them?” Fry them? “You know, cook them up in the pan like zucchini.” Hmm, I don’t know - warm cucumbers are not in my vocabulary, and anyway wouldn’t it be too Different? But a quick internet search shows that even Martha sautés her cucumbers, so I guess I’d be a fool not to try it (desperate times and all). So I sliced up a bunch, threw them in the frying pan with a splash of olive oil and a few pinches of salt, and stirred them around until they were golden brown. We at them for breakfast with our scrambled eggs and and they were… good. Tasted like, well, cucumbers, but cooked - and that was a good thing! A splash of Tabasco, with that vinegary spiciness, really made them sing.
So never let anyone tell you that you have too many cucumbers. Raw, cooked, fermented, “put up” - they’re good about any way you slice them.
(Yes, I’m eating one right now.)