There's something about a good, fresh, ripe, right-from-the garden cucumber. Bright green, a sort of forest green, small prickly bumps like cucumber acne, firm to the touch if picked properly. When you slice into it with a sharp knife there's a snap, and the unmistakable aroma that rises up quickly. The smell of a cucumber. I'm not sure how to describe it but it's distinctive. To me it's the smell of a garden. Actually the cucumber is a fairly simple fruit when it comes right down to it. One that always reminds me of summer and of my great-grandparent's garden.
I have wanted to write about my cucumber memories for awhile now but needed to find the right cucumber. I knew those over-ripe, too big, coated-in-wax ones at Gelson's would not be right. In fact they are all wrong. I looked at Whole Foods and nothing doing there either. I even checked several farmers' markets and came up empty. Now I hope the lack of product at the farmers' markets is due to the cucumbers normal May to August growing season but I doubt it -- not in this day and age of hot houses, hydroponics and God knows what else. I kept my eyes open for the right cucumber. I knew it was out there somewhere.
When I was growing up we often ate the fresh fruits and vegetables that my great-grandparents grew in their garden. I realize now that I didn't know any different. Going into the garden, pulling up a carrot, washing it off with the hose, and eating it on the spot was no big deal to my sister and I. The freshness and garden flavor we took for granted. It wasn't until I was older that I became aware of how different a carrot bought at the local Safeway and a carrot pulled from my great-grandparent's garden tasted. It was then that I fully appreciated their amazing garden.
Now back to my cucumber. At the family meals, usually midday on Sundays, when seven or eight of us all sat down together my great-grandmother quite often put a bowl of sliced cucumbers soaking in vinegar on the table. It always seemed to be there. We all helped ourselves. I guess it might be considered a side dish, or a condiment. What they were to me were little bites of garden freshness. Cucumbers picked that morning, sliced and put into a bowl with vinegar and salt. Simplicity at its best. A sort of faux-pickle: crunchy, greenly bitter, mouth puckering and refreshing. I loved them. And as simple as it is, the dish is a standout in my childhood food memories. I think in part because the simpleness of the dish is evocative of who my great-grandmother was; hardworking, self-sufficient and uncomplicated.
This past weekend Robert and I went to see the new farmers' market at the Americana -- a popular, outdoor shopping mall in Glendale, California. I'd heard they were starting a farmers' market but I was also in no rush to go to one in a shopping mall. It turned out to be quite delightful. It's called Gigi's Farmers Market, happens every Saturday, and is easily on par with other local farmers' markets. As we wandered through my cucumber radar was up. As we rounded a corner to the next produce stall, I saw them sitting there in a small stack. The right size, the right green, with cucumber acne. I picked one up, it smelled like a cucumber. It felt like a cucumber. It looked like I'd found my cucumber. I asked the growers where they were from: Oxnard -- about fifty-nine miles away. Organic? Yes. Waxed? No. I bought six.
When I got home I made my great-grandmother's faux pickles and Robert and I ate them with our lunch. As I peeled and cut into the first one that cucumber smell rose up to meet my nose, and memories of our long ago family meals came rushing back to me.
Gramma Ora's Faux Pickles
- 4 medium sized cucumbers, garden fresh or organic farmers market
- Apple cider vinegar, enough to cover the cucumbers
- 1 tsp. salt, ground sea salt if possible
My Status: International Food Blogger Conference: I leave for Seattle on Thursday, May 14 and return home on Monday, May 18. The conference is Friday, May 15 - Sunday, May 17.
Robert and I leave for Paris, the Languedoc, Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday, May 24, returning home on Saturday, June 6.
Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. France and Spain: if all goes well technologically, and time allows, I'll be posting blogs from Europe.