When life gives you cucumbers…

The trouble with having a busy life and a kitchen garden is that plants can quickly get away from you. At the beginning of the season each individual cucumber is watched and eagerly awaited, then greedily plucked and eaten when mature. By the end of August or early September things have changed, the garden can become aggressive and demanding. It’s vacation season and my attention has shifted. The single day a week that is available does not suffice. It should be a rule that gardeners can’t take summer vacations. The cute little baby cucumbers hide in the overgrown vines, easy to overlook until they are suddenly (or so it seems) two feet long. This is a more common complaint with summer squash but I pick those when they are tiny with the flowers still attached, they don’t get much of a chance to get oversized. Also, my neighbor loves squash and will happily pick for her family if I am out-of-town.

A recent harvest looked like this. There are three varieties in the picture, Telegraph Improved (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed) , Suyo Long (Cooks Garden), and Tasty Green Japanese Cucumber (Renee’s Garden). A fourth variety planted was Chinese Yellow from Baker Creek. Unfortunately, it was planted behind the pole beans and didn’t get enough sun. It looked fine when the plants were small, not so good once the pole beans were 7 feet tall. There was a handful of small cukes but it did not live up to the description on the seed package, my fault. I’ll try again next year.If I had to pick a 2014 favorite variety it would be the Japanese Green, very sweet and mild with small seeds. This summer it was also the most prolific of all those I planted.

All the seeds were planted along a short trellis on May 22nd. The week before I had been given two sunflower plants which were becoming root bound. They are supposed to be good companions for cucumbers so I interplanted them along the row to attract pollinators. Marjoram, another good general companion, was planted at the end of the row.

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I pulled up the vines this past week as they were beginning to show a lot of powdery mildew and I need the garden space for fall vegetables. Now the big question is what to do with them before they turn mushy in the refrigerator. I try to eat seasonally and use the produce my garden provides, sometimes that means getting tired of endless meals including cucumbers. But I know that I’ll be grieving the lack of cucumbers come February or the tastelessness of those I buy at the grocery store in desperation.

My creativity was pushed to the max to use them up, here are some ideas:

Idea 1: cucumber sandwiches

My mother was English and these are a classic part of an authentic English tea. She would also make them for any family member or visitor headed to the airport for a flight. Since there is no mayonnaise they keep well and are good at room or cabin temperature. I have very fond memories of those lovingly made little sandwiches. The addition of a few slices of smoked salmon make these a real treat.

Thinly sliced white Pullman type bread is essential to keep the sandwiches delicate. You could use wheat bread (and I’ve done that) but it overwhelms the cucumber taste and changes the “feeling” of the sandwich. These are not deli sandwiches piled high with filling. She used Pepperidge Farm’s bread (sometimes found in the freezer section) but I’ve used Pullman bread in the better grocery stores of the bay area from Acme bakery.

Spread each bread slice thinly with good quality cream cheese, it spreads easier if you let it warm to room temperature. Layer thinly sliced cucumber on one slice of bread, just one slice deep, then place the other slice on top with the cream cheese down. Now remove the crusts and cut the sandwich on the diagonal each way making four triangular pieces. That’s all there is, simple and elegant, smoked salmon optional.

Stay tuned for more ideas.

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