When it comes to cukes, think small seeds and tender skin.
|Andrea Chesman’s garden in winter|
I’m not one to keep notes from one year to the next about the garden, nor do I race to plant the newest varieties featured in the seed catalogs. But I call myself a cook who gardens, and as a cook and an enthusiastic pickler, I am done with the traditional cucumbers — the slicing, or salad varieties — that everyone grows. There are many different cultivars, but they are all Marketmores to me — and they all have relatively tough, bitter skins and a tendency to be too seedy to make good pickles. They yield abundantly, so if you grow slicing cucumbers, you will have too many and you will make pickles. And the pickles won’t be as great as they should be.
|Note the size difference between the pickling cucumber and the Mid-Eastern type|
For the last couple of years, I have been growing Beit Alpha and Asian cucumbers — great for both slicing and pickling. These are long, either curved or straight, with generally tender skin. The flavor of the flesh is sweet and slightly aromatic (unlike the neutral wetness of a slicing cucumber). Yes, they require trellising, but the great thing about these cucumbers is that they forgive you if you neglect your garden for a bit, as they don’t go from almost-ready-to-be-harvested to oversized in a day.
The Beit Alpha types, also called Mid-Eastern types, are especially adapted to hot, dry climates, but I have had good luck with them in rainy, cool Vermont. Lebanese cucumbers are nearly seedless, smooth-skinned, and mild, yet with a distinct flavor and aroma.
|Sliced Middle Eastern type cucumbers|
|Who needs big seeds?|
Photos courtesy of the author.
Andrea Chesman is the author of many cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, Mom’s Best Crowd-Pleasers, and The Vegetarian Grill, which was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award and won a National Barbecue Association Award of Excellence. She is a coauthor of 250 Treasured Country Desserts and The Classic Zucchini Cookbook, and her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Vegetarian Times, Organic Gardening, Fine Cooking, and other publications. Her next book, The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, is forthcoming from Storey in 2015. Visit Andrea’s website.