In season: cucumbers

Joe Reynolds of Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens near Decatur offers a market-style community-supported agriculture program. Instead of receiving a box or bag of that week’s produce, his customers come to the farm and put together their own share based on what’s available that week. One head of lettuce, six tomatoes, four zephyr squash — each person selects the produce that looks best to them.

When it comes to the cucumbers, Reynolds finds his customers prefer the smaller ones. “They think they’re less seedy, and I love those, too. They’re definitely sweet and tender. But not many things that say the beginning of summer like a big juicy cucumber.”

Reynolds grows a number of cucumbers including Marketmore, a long-time standard “slicer” with dark green skin, and Green Finger, an Israeli cucumber with thin light green skin, crisp flesh and a small seed cavity. He grows lemon cucumbers, a round, yellow-striped variety that Reynolds says is extremely juicy (a trait he particularly likes). And this year he’s also trying a few pickling varieties, including Salt and Pepper and H-19 Little Leaf. The latter produces three- to five-inch fruits that are bright emerald green and have leaves that are half the size of a normal cucumber leaf. No more cucumbers hiding behind their leaves. “Since cucumber plants are prickly, anything that makes it easier to find the cucumbers is a plus.”

Aside from just wanting to offer a variety of cucumbers, is there a reason to put in about 800 cucumber plants of so many different varieties?

“Diversity is the master plan for success on Planet Earth and in the market garden. There are a lot of pressures on cucumbers including some insects that just like to kill cucumbers. Like the cucumber beetle. It has a passion for killing the cucumbers and attacks in multiple modes. It feeds on the calyxes of the flowers and the leaves of the plant and it lays its eggs at the base of the stem. The larva emerge from the eggs in the soil and feed on the root system. As an adult, it carries bacterial wilt that can, not always but sometimes, give the plant a ‘stroke’ overnight.”

Reynolds fights cucumber beetles by letting his plants sprawl instead of growing them on trellises and then keeping the plants covered in a light spun fabric that keeps the bugs off until the plants start blooming and it’s time for the pollinators to come in and do their job.

“We just took the cover off the second week of May. We’re debating spraying the plants with kaolin clay. That creates a film on the plants that the beetles’ mandibles can’t chew through. And I’m looking into using beneficial nematodes to help control the larva in the soil.”

When you think about all the work that goes into growing cucumbers, it makes that juicy taste of summer just that much more special.

Mercedes O’Brien’s Oaxacan Cooler

You could muddle a few cucumber slices and add some tequila, or you could celebrate the arrival of cucumber season with this intricate cocktail from Mercedes O’Brien of Gunshow. The combination of smoky mexcal, charred peppers, anise-flavored tarragon and cucumber is intoxicating (pun intended). Our testers noted they could see how every element contributed to the delicious final product.

Simple syrup is a combination of one part granulated sugar, one part water, heated until the sugar dissolves and then cooled. It can be made up in batches and refrigerated for about a month. O’Brien makes her cucumber juice using a juice extractor. She says if you don’t have an extractor, you could puree the cucumbers in a blender and then strain out the solids and use the resulting liquid in your cocktail.

A note about the other ingredients: Fever Tree Bitter Lemon is available at local liquor stores and at some groceries. 18.21 Bitters is a new shop at Ponce City Market. You can purchase their bitters there, or at many liquor stores. We found the Japanese Chili & Lime Bitter at the Green’s a block away from Ponce City Market.

Boomsma Cloosterbitter is an herbal liqueur and the product of a Dutch distillery. It’s similar to Green Chartreuse and can be found at some Green’s, and at Decatur Package and Ansley Wine Merchant.

1 ounce Vida Mezcal

1/2 ounce Boomsma Cloosterbitter

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

4 drops 18.21 Japanese Chili & Lime Bitters

2 ounces Cucumber and Shishito Aqua Fresca (see recipe)

1 (6.8-ounce) bottle Fever Tree Bitter Lemon soda

Ice

Charred lime wheel, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine mescal, Cloosterbitter, lime juice, simple syrup and Japanese Chili & Lime Bitters over ice. Shake until mixture is cold. Add aqua fresca and soda and strain into a Collins glass. Garnish with charred lime wheel. Serves: 1

Per serving: 95 calories, trace fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.

Cucumber and Shishito Aqua Fresca

10 shishito peppers (just under 1/4 pound), stems removed

4 cucumbers (about 2 1/2 pounds)

2 large sprigs fresh tarragon

Char the peppers on the flame of a gas stove or on a grill. Allow to cool.

Peel and remove seeds from cucumbers and using an extraction juicer, juice them. Should yield about 2 cups. In the jar of a blender, combine cucumber juice, charred peppers and tarragon. Pulse until finely chopped then strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days in advance. Makes: 2 cups

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 6 calories, trace fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, trace dietary fiber, 7 percent of calories from fat.

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