Crisp, juicy and mild, the cucumber – having arrived some time ago from India – is now sold in Europe throughout the year. But the long, slim plastic wrapped (so that their skins can remain unwaxed) slicing variety more often do a good job. There are also the slightly more acidic, thick skinned and warty variety sold in polish stores that are perfect for the pickling the pickling jar. It’s with some sun on its back that it’s happiest growing and so summertime generally offers up some more exciting varieties. Sometimes with delicious flowers even, like its seedy sibling the courgette.
Cucumber, gin and honey
Cucumber does a fine job here of opening up the naturally floral and piney aromas of gin.
Either juice the peeled cucumber or blitz it up and strain through a sieve. Either way once done, heat it up in a pot until it comes to a boil and take it off the heat – this will help the impurities separate from the good stuff. Then put it through a coffee filter and season your nectar lightly with honey. Drink half juice-half gin, cold and with a little ice and a sliver of lime zest.
Rye, curd and cucumber
Peel your cucumber and cut it into halves or thirds depending on its length. Boil it briefly in plenty of boiling salty water – no more than five minutes, and then shock it in cold running water. When the cucumbers cool and dry and you’re almost ready to eat cut into quarters lengthwise, rub with oil and then season well with salt. Griddle over a piping hot pan. When nicely charred on all three sides serve on top of slices of baked rye shmeared with goat or sheep’s curd and finished with a grind of black pepper.
Makes a fine companion to a bottle of white wine.
Cucumber, beetroot, frisee and egg
The beetroot can be cooked to good effect in one of two different ways here. Baked till tender in a hot oven, then peeled and sliced. Or else sliced thin and grilled over fire. Either way, peel and dice some cucumber, throw into a hot pan with some oil and season generously with salt. Toss, and after a minute add a good splash of cider vinegar, take off the heat, and toss again.
Build the salad, as suits, with a spoonful of seasoned yogurt, the sliced beetroot, cucumber, frisee and a poached egg.
Strawberries, sweet pickled cucumber, mint and cream cheese
To make the pickle blitz up some cider vinegar with a little chopped peeled cucumber, seedless white grapes or melon and a glug of white wine. Strain through a coffee filter and then heat up with some a couple of stalks of tarragon and some sugar and a pinch of salt to taste. On the other hand a simple cider vinegar, sugar and pinch of salt mixture will do fine.
Peel your cucumbers and cut them into inch and a half lengths. Then cut them in half lengthwise, then into fairly thin wedges.
When the pickle is warm pour it over the cucumber and leave it in the fridge for a week or so.
Give your strawberries a quick wash in cold water, then take off their stalk and cut into halves, quarters or leave whole, depending on size.
For the cream cheese, add some cream and a little bit of honey to curd (when room temperature) and beat until smooth with a wooden spoon. Let it cool and stiffen a little in the fridge and when ready to serve and spoon on to each plate, with the strawbs cucumber and mint (some sorrel too perhaps if there’s any still growing near by) tossed in a little of the pickling liquor resting alongside.
Image by Fiona Hallinan