The secret lives of cucumbers

June 30, 2011 

  • CUCUMBER SOUP 6 servings 2 long firm European or Asian cucumbers (about 2-1/2 pounds), peeled, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, and coarsely chopped 4 small fresh onions or 6 scallions, white part only 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half, preferably not ultra-pasteurized Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves 6 fresh mint leaves Place the cucumbers in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process. Add the onion and process until the mixture is a frothy puree. Add the cream and process to blend. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mince the parsley and mint together and stir them into the soup. Cover the soup and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, and up to overnight (8 hours). Refrigerate the cucumbers because they froth better and hold it longer when they are chilled. From “Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin" by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Morrow, 2005).

Thank goodness Julia Childs has a marvelous recipe for cucumber soup in her “The French Chef” cookbook. Our St. Matthews garden is going gangbusters with cucumbers.

Every day I walk the row and invariably discover a behemoth of a fellow who escaped an earlier picking. Of the three varieties we’re growing, the best tasting is an heirloom Rodger Winn of Little Mountain gave me, which produces an almost white fruit with extremely thin skin and a deeper green interior. The others are particularly healthy but peculiar Armenian trombone-shaped fellows and then good old picklers with their spiny little skins.

This cold soup is a lifesaver in hot weather, and if you use that wonderful new Greek yogurt instead of sour cream (leave out the vinegar) you’ll save a few calories. The ingredient “farina” is cream of wheat, but I usually substitute cream of rice since it is South Carolina, after all. Fresh dill is about a thousand times better than the dried option.

I attribute my cucumber surplus to all the bee plants in the garden and what other people would call “the lawn.” Cucumbers (and squash, watermelon and gourds) have completely separate male and female flowers. When the plants first get going, the earliest flowers are all male followed a week or so later by female flowers, which have a visible little cucumber behind them.

The only way the little cucumber can develop is if pollen grains get moved over to the female flower and fertilize the ovules in that tiny fruit. The seeds then grow and expand – before you know it you have cucumbers galore. A crooked fruit results when some ovules don’t get fertilized and consequently don’t expand.

When we humans have babies, we only need one sperm since in normal circumstances we have one egg. Look at all the seeds in a cucumber and you’ll understand why it takes numerous visits from bees to achieve complete pollination.

It’s not like one moment of unbridled passion at the drive-in movie. Cucumbers are not Oscar-winning films in the bees’ list of favorites, so you really need lots of them to do a good job on your cukes.

By growing a smorgasbord of bee attractors, you’re more likely to have them hang around and pay some attention to your cucumbers.

If you feel you have to use a pesticide (always read the label – before you use it – and follow the directions), choose a liquid rather than a dust. Dust particles will stick to the bees’ bodies and end up in the hive, as well as getting on you when you apply them. A liquid will dry overnight and stay where you put it, still being effective when the insects that eat the leaves or fruit start to feed.

The best time to put out any pesticides is late in the evening after the bees have turned in for the night. For the pickle worm, Bt (Baccilus thurengiensis, a biological product that only affects very young caterpillars) is a good option.

If you aren’t a plump woman from the country, you may not know how refreshing it is to have a Mason jar filled with sliced cukes, onions, dill, salt, and vinegar and water sitting in the refrigerator. A piece of cold chicken, sliced tomatoes, and that cold relish make a mighty good supper that won’t leave you wilted. Start off with the soup for an appetizer. Bon appétit!

Amanda McNulty is an associate extension agent for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service and is a co-host of “Making It Grow” broadcast weekly on ETV television stations. Website: www.clemson.edu/

extension/hgic/

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