In perfect step with Shavuoth, the Harvest Festival, we harvested the maiden fakus, aka “Arabic cucumber” crop over the past few weeks. After previous years when we’d get a barrage of comments like, “This week I received two portions of zucchini and no cucumbers,” we’ve now decided to place the fakus directly in the cucumber bag. This way, it’s easier to spot those who are in the know, and to introduce the fakus to those who are not yet acquainted.
So, for those who could not identify the New Guy in the Bag, here’s a handy key to distinguish between a fakus and a zucchini, which I learned from our long-time client Tzipi of Jerusalem: The fakus stem resembles that of a cucumber, not a zucchini! If you received a light-green elongated vegetable that kind-of-resembles-zucchini-but-kind-of-doesn’t, check out its stem (the part where it attaches to the plant). If it is wide and star-shaped like a zucchini, well… it’s a zucchini. If it’s thin and willowy like a cucumber, then say hi to our friend the fakus.
Here, ladies and gentlemen, is The Fakus in all its glory:
At the heat of the day in the scorching Sinai desert, the Israelites craved the Egyptian fare, reminiscing, “We remember the. . . . cucumbers, and the melons…” (Numbers 11, 5). The “cucumbers” they missed were most probably the fresh fakus. And to be honest, I totally understand them. Fakus is definitely worth pining for. Thus, every summer, we descendants of those Egyptian exiles are proud to bring to you the vegetable hankered by our great-great-great-great-great-great-greeeaaaaaat-grandparents….
Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was also known for his fondness for cucumbers. He would eat cucumbers every day of the year, necessitating the Roman farmers to develop artificial methods to grow the vegetable year-round. According to Historia Naturalis by Pliny the Elder (Book XIX, Chapter 23), “Indeed, he [Tiberius] was never without it [cucumber]; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone.”
Tiberius was probably not munching on the cucumber we all know and love, i.e., the Cucumis Sativus, but rather on the light and somewhat hairy fakus, aka Armenian cucumber. And today’s surprising revelation: The fakus is in fact …a melon. Also coined the “snake melon,” on account of its looks, in botanical terms this is the Cucumis melo var. flexuosus melon. However, we do not let the fakus mature like our melons—we pick it in its crunchy sweet youth, like the cucumbers (which is a good thing, really, because the fakus just would not ever become a real tasty melon at full maturity). There are all sorts of fakus varieties grown worldwide: light green, striped, long and curved, or short and light like a cucumber. At Chubeza we grow two types of the light-colored variety: the small fakus, about the length of a cucumber, and one which is long and curved.
Melons and cucumbers belong to the same family, but they are two different entities with diverse characteristics. When you look at the leaves, you can tell that fakus leaves are rounder and less serrated, similar to their melon brothers. Its flavor and appearance are closer to the cucumber, but not really: the fakus is not thorny at all. It is covered with soft fuzz and is sweeter and crunchier than the cucumber. However, like the cucumber, it is picked in its youth, before its seeds mature, which is why it is not as soft as a melon.
Like the cucumber, the fakus sometimes tends to be bitter. Various attempts to overcome this bitterness have proven that we must carefully choose the plants whose seeds are to be kept for next year, making certain that they are non-bitter plants. We hope you will not receive a bitter fakus, but to be on the safe side, when you slice them up into a salad, first nibble at the point where the fakus was attached to the plant. That’s where the bitterness begins. If you like what you taste, slice away. If it’s bitter, take a bite further down. Sometimes the bitterness remains contained at the end…
The fakus is lauded by chefs as part of the trend to return to local, homegrown “baladi” food of the past. It does resemble the cucumbers enjoyed here in bygone years, prior to the arrival of the garden cucumber. Several years ago we were visited by Dr. Moshe Ra’anan, who has written many articles about plants and animals in the Bible. He photographed our nice fakus varieties and wrote a few words about them (in Hebrew). I learned from him that during the Mishnaic period there was actually a verb “to fakus” (“לפקס”), related to the ripening of the fakus. Our commentators offered two different interpretations for its definition: 1. the stage at which the fuzz is shed from the fruit, or 2. the stages at which the flower dries up and falls from the fruit.
Either way, when the fakus’s are fakused, you can wash, slice, add some salt if desired and joyfully bite into it, or you may preserve it, just like a cucumber, producing delicious pickles, and even fry or stuff it like a zucchini. And all this while being …a melon!
Check out our recipe section for some delectable fakus recipes.
Confused? That’s ok, just enjoy the fakus and Bon Appetite!
Wishing you a good week,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Cherry tomatoes, yellow or green beans/eggplant, parsley/coriander/dill, potatoes, beets/carrots, onions, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers + fakus, lettuce.
Large box, in addition: Acorn squash/butternut squash, parsley root/scallions/garlic, melon/watermelon. FREE GIFT: Basil!
FRUIT BOXES: Apples, avocados, peaches, bananas, cherries
Wednesday: Cherry tomatoes, yellow or green beans/garlic, parsley/coriander, potatoes, beets/carrots, onions/eggplant, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers+fakus, lettuce.
Large box, in addition: Acorn squash/butternut squash/slice of pumpkin, parsley root/scallions, melon/watermelon. FREE GIFT: Basil/dill!
FRUIT BOXES: Apples, avocados, peaches, bananas, cherries.