Even before the push towards seasonal eating, which focuses on meals that include the produce that is in season (hence the name), some foods were defined by when they were ripe. In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, mad men tried to extract sunlight from cucumbers, and it’s easy to see why they’d try it: cucumbers, despite their cool, refreshing nature, taste like summer.
Cucumbers, like other gourds, are technically fruit. If you take one of the nice, big green cucumbers sold in grocery stores or at farmers markets and slice it in half, you’ll see the seeds arranged in a triangle in the middle of the pale flesh. The taste, however, is light, delicate, and with possibly a touch of bitterness. Peeling the tough, green skin can remove some of the bitter taste, but, well, as a food, cucumber is just not as aesthetically pleasing without its emerald rind.
This light flavor, coupled with the cucumber’s high water content, make it the perfect vegetable for summertime snacks (the high water content also makes cucumber extremely hard to store long-term, so it in fact limits when and where cucumber can be eaten). Hell, if you need to stay hydrated, why not go for foods that’ll be pulling some of the water-load for you? It’s damned efficient, is what it is.
But just chomping into a cucumber like it’s a banana isn’t my thing (though I am not one to judge cucumber eating techniques, and I have in fact seen people eat them like bananas, minus the peeling, of course). I prefer mine sliced – thin sliver slices, not big chunks, are the preferred method, since the translucent snips of cucumber catch the light like frosted stained glass windows.
So, I like cucumber salads, from the yogurt-chopped cucumber-salt-black pepper-and-dill combination that my grandparents would make, to the rice vinegar-red pepper flakes-salt-pepper crisp salad that comes with sushi at one of the local restaurants. Summer is too hot for a warm, heavy meal, and cucumbers, whatever they can be, cannot be served warm or heavy.
And if you’re already full, but still want to get in on the cucumber action, why not try adding cucumber to a mixed drink? Cucumber and gin go together like sandwiches and me – it’s a match made in heaven. Try these cucumber gimlets from epicurious, or this cucumber gin cooler from savuer, and feel both sophisticated and hydrated (I’m going to pretend that the cucumber totally balances out the dehydrating power of alcohol). Put on a fancy hat and really get into the spirit of the summer (hey now, fancy hats provide excellent sun protection, especially when they’re properly gigantic).
The dog days of summer will be drawing to a close before you know it, so take advantage of the heat and enjoy the cukes before they disappear until next year.