Hot, humid weather gives cucumbers day in the sun

HAPPY EATER

June 28, 1995|By ROB KASPER

About the only good thing I can say about our weather is that the cucumbers seem to like it. This recent mixture of sledgehammer heat and humidity may make us feel lower than a snake in a wagon rut, but for cucumbers, it is propagation time. They are popping off the vines.

There are not a whole lot of folks who care for the weather, or for cucumbers. Cucumbers do not have a large, vocal following. Unlike the broccoli legions, cucumbers can not claim to able to prevent cancer, clean your arteries or even give you curly hair. Unlike tomatoes, cucumbers have no artistic support group. There are no cucumber zealots who, like the tomato types, feel inspired to write poems to the juicy joys of the homegrown beefsteak.

Even the zucchini growers have a certain solidarity. Zucchini growers have been subjected to so many bad jokes, that like the squash itself, they have developed thick skins.

Cucumbers, on the other hand, do not incite passion. They are mild-mannered, both in flavor and nutritional value. Cukes do attract the attention of some salty souls, but only if they have been transformed into pickles.

Cucumbers can, however, surprise you. One day everything is normal in the garden and the next day cucumbers show up, like some distant cousins from Kansas City.

That happened to me the other day. I was working in the garden, taking advantage of one of the brief periods in the day when it wasn't raining. The particular patch of ground I was working was dominated by a zucchini plant. The zucchini had the high ground and, like the national debt, seemed to swell by the moment threatening to overtake everything in its path. While fighting to contain this big green worry, I virtually stubbed my toe on a shy, newly arrived cucumber. It was an unexpected bit of good news, like a check showing up in the mail. It lifted my spirits.

The cucumber was long, dark green and slender. Not a show stopper. But a pretty fair looking piece of produce. And it was mine. I picked it, smoothed off a few rough spots and made big plans for this baby. But I needed some fresh bread.

To get the bread I drove to the Sunday morning Baltimore Farmers' Market down in the parking lots between Holliday and Saratoga streets underneath the Jones Falls Expressway. I walked around and compared what I was growing in my garden with what the farmers were selling. Their zucchini seemed smaller and from better-behaved plants than mine. Their string beans, unlike mine, had not been munched on by rabbits. But their cucumbers had nothing on my prized beauty. My cuke was as long and as green as any in the market.

Eventually, I bought a loaf of sourdough from one of the market's bakers and headed home. Once I got to my kitchen, I sliced two pieces of bread, toasted them, and spread a little cream cheese on each slice of warm toast. Then I loaded the two pieces of bread with slices of my freshly harvested cucumber.

I carried the sandwich over to the kitchen table. For a moment I admired it. Then I devoured it. I am not claiming that my cucumber and cream cheese sandwich sent shock waves through the culinary world.

But it provided a small pleasure on a hot day. And if past summers are any guide, there are plenty more "cucumber days" ahead.

Here is a cucumber classic from "Lighter, Quicker, Better," (Morrow, $25), by Richard Sax and Marie Simmons:

Crisp Marinated Cucumbers

Serves 4

2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced very thin

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove crushed through a press

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill and/or mint

Layer cucumbers and salt in a colander, weighing cucumbers down with something heavy. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour. Drain off liquid and squeeze cucumbers dry.

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, and dill or mint in a glass serving bowl. Add the cucumbers, refrigerate. When cucumbers are cold and crisp, drain some of liquid and serve.

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