Aley Chubeza #20!, May 24-26 2010

Cucumber, my number
You have it, it’s true
In slumber I wonder
With you what I’ll do

Slice you up thin in the
Julienne style
Make cucumber cookies
Stacked high as a mile

Salt you and dress you in
E.V.O.O.*
Add cherry tomatoes
A colorful show

Another idea
Won’t cost but a nickel
Bathe you in vinegar
Make you a pickle!

*Extra Virgin Olive Oil

(from Poems on Fruits and Odes to Veggies by, Judith Natelli McLaughlin)

The cucumber originated at the center of the Indian continent. This very ancient domesticated vegetable has been raised by the human farmer for over 3,000 years. Today there is almost no place in the world where a wild cucumber grows. Mankind grew it in China, North American, Europe and the Middle East even before we had written documentation. The Biblical Hebrews craved it when they went out of Egypt—their mouths watered as they “remember… the cucumbers.”

The cucumber is a vegetable that needs heat in order to grow and produce fruit, which is why it can only be grown in a greenhouse during wintertime. This method of growth is also beneficial as it protects against viruses and fly-bites, the cucumber’s greatest enemies in the open fields.

The original cucumber is monoecious, meaning the male and female flowers grow on the same plant. The “traditional” summer cucumber species start by producing male flowers, which then are combined with female flowers to create bi-gender flowers, concluding with only female flowers. These cucumber species require pollination by pollinating insects that transfer the powder from the male to the female flowers. In breeding the species by crossbreeding and selection, man was able to create new gynoecious hybrid cultivars that produce almost all female blossoms which are parthenocarpic (virgin fruits, without fertilization or formation of “real” seeds). These varieties do not need to be fertilized, an act that might even hurt the quality of the fruit, which is why growing them in a greenhouse, isolating them from pollinating insects, is beneficial.

Those are the majority of the cucumbers on the market, and those we buy all winter long. They look somewhat different from the open-field cucumbers you have been receiving lately in your boxes: the greenhouse cucumbers are smoother and more uniform in appearance, and they have round edges, as compared to the little point at the ends of the open-field cucumbers. There are also open-field cucumbers grown in Israel, but those are aimed mostly towards the “industry,” i.e., pickling. In our fields we grow varieties for fresh consumption, a little like old-fashioned cucumbers. They are a bit prickly (specifically when harvesting), come in strange shapes and forms, and many believe they are much tastier.

We couldn’t figure out why our cucumbers were coming out shaped the way they were, but lo and behold, as I surfed the Internet searching for information about cucumbers, I found this answer on the Yagur nursery site:

“Pretty” cucumbers are those that – most of the time – were not fertilized. This is why they are more or less uniform in look. The cucumber is a monoecious plant, its flowers are either male or female. They are fertilized by bees. The cucumber’s ovary stores many eggs that later turn into seeds. Each seed must be individually fertilized, i.e., a crumb of powder for each seed. If the cucumbers are not fertilized at a specific time, they won’t develop, and therefore, will come in various shapes and forms. The skinny parts are the un-fertilized parts. When growing cucumbers for food, it is customary these days to prevent the fertilizing by bees, which is why they are grown in greenhouses, nurseries and plastic tunnels.

There are many varieties of cucumbers in the world, of course, other than the fakus and the “Israeli” cucumber we discussed. There are huge greenhouse cucumbers, sold in Europe and the United States, individually Saran-wrapped, called “Dutch,” “British,” or “European.” There are the long and thin Asian species and tiny white cucumbers. There is even a “lemon cucumber” which grows to be round and yellow. Its seeds are big, and it is a little sour.

cucumbers

A popular use for cucumbers, other than biting into them, is cutting them in circles and placing them on the eyes. What do cucumbers actually do to the eyes? They cool and freshen them. Underneath the peeling, the cucumber is seven degrees cooler than the outside world. The fresh juice of the vegetable cools down the skin, cures it and flexes it. For the treatment of light sunburn, it is recommended to place slices of cucumbers on the damaged area, or to gently smear cucumber juice. Cucumber strips on the forehead are a classic folk cure for headaches. So are cucumber strips on aching feet, as well as 30 minutes of rest…

People tend to peel the cucumber, but this is really unnecessary. Basically, it is recommended to eat as many fruits and vegetables with their peeling, which adds dietary fibers to the food, and slows down the release of sugar from the food into the blood (vital for those who suffer from such sugar problems as diabetes, Candida and fungus, etc.) Also, leaving the peeling keeps the vitamins close by, especially the antioxidants. The cucumber is considered a cooler in Chinese medicine: a diuretic thirst-quenching vegetable that helps cleanse the body of toxins. It is considered to be a sweet vegetable that assists the digestive organs, rich in high-quality water (because plants purify their own water),containing calcium, potassium, beta carotene C and a trace of vitamin B.

In a post called facts you may not know about the cucumber (which I can’t decide is serious or not), the blogger counts 12 different uses for the cucumber, from an eraser, to a shoe shiner to a mirror cleaner to a hangover preventer and the national freshener. Personally, I prefer my cucumber as a straightforward food, thank you…

Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was known for his fondness for cucumbers. He would eat cucumbers every day of the year, necessitating the Roman farmers to develop artificial methods of growing the vegetable year-long. According to The Natural History of Pliny, by Pliny the Elder (Book XIX, Chapter 23), “Indeed, he [Tiberius] was never without it; 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.”

But historians doubt Pliny was referring to our familiar garden cucumber, the Cucumis Sativus, but to a different kind of cucumber that has been visiting you in your boxes, disguised as a cucumber, and most of you don’t even realize that it is actually a… melon. This is the fakus, the light-colored cucumber, also coined the “snake melon.” And in botanical terms, it is actually a melon, Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. Like cucumbers, the fakus comes in different variants: light green or striped, long and curved, or small like a cucumber.

armenian_cucumber

Melons and cucumbers belong to the same family, but they are two different types, with diverse characteristics. When you look at the different leaves, you can tell that fakus leaves are rounder and less serrated, similar to their melon brothers. Its taste and look are closer to the cucumber, which is why it is easy to confuse them, but not really: the fakus is not thorny at all; it is covered with soft down 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.

This year we are growing two types of the fakus, one which has been ready for a few weeks and which you have received in your boxes, the small fakus, resembling the cucumber in its length. The second is the long and curved fakus, which looks like its English name, a snake melon, yet to come…

The fakus is praised by chefs, as part of the trend to return to local baladi food. It does look like the cucumbers eaten here in the past, before the arrival of the garden cucumber. The nice thing about it is that other than to wash, slice, add some salt for taste and joyfully bite into it, the fakus can be pickled, just like a cucumber, producing delicious pickles, and even fried or stuffed like a zucchini, and all this while being a… melon! Confused? That’s OK, as long as you eat in good health!

Enjoy your week,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: cucumbers & fakus, zucchini & squash, beets, potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, basil, cilantro or dill, lettuce, green cabbage, small box only: garlic

In the large box, in addition:  green beans, nana, leek, green onions

Wednesday:  cucumbers & fakus, zucchini & squash, beets, potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green onions, lettuce, corn (!!), nana, garlic

In the large box, in addition: basil, yellow beans, green cabbage or leek

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Cucumber and fakus recipes:

Chilled Yogurt-Cucumber Soup (Jajik)

Cucumber Salad with Mint and Feta

Feggous Salad Recipe – Armenian Cucumber Salad with Orange Flower Water

And two options for pickles:

Max’s Fresh Refrigerator Pickles

Armenian Cucumber Pickles (Ajoor Pickles)

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