Local cucumbers will be in season from June through October here in Maryland. They add a satisfying crunchy and delicate flavor to many salads.
Cucumbers have a mild flavor and have very high water content. You will find them crunchy, cool, and refreshing on a hot day.
You may remove the skin or leave it on, but the skin may be tougher, earthier, or more bitter, so many remove it.
The delicate flavor of local cucumbers pairs well with stronger flavored vegetables. It also works very well in pickles.
Growing and Buying Local Cucumbers
Cucumbers, like beans, grow as both vines and bush forms. Like beans, the vining varieties produce continual crops over time but the bush varieties produce all at once and then decline.
Bush cucumber plants do well in containers and smaller gardens. For continual harvesting, plant more bush cucumbers every two weeks or so.
Vining cucumber plants will provide cucumbers all season long. Pick them regularly, as the more you pick, the more cucumbers they produce. Plus, as with zucchinis, a hidden cucumber can get big quickly.
Your local cucumbers are heavy feeders, so they appreciate extra nutrients and don’t play well with other plants that are too close to them. Keep them weeded and well watered all season.
Cucumbers that grow in dry conditions, high temperature fluctuations, or without enough nutrients may turn out bitter. Though cucumber plants are easy to grow, you want to make sure you give them the conditions they prefer so your cucumbers stay delicious.
You can try cucumber varieties that are bred to be less bitter. Plain slicing cukes can get quite bitter, but burpless cukes are meant to be free of bitterness.
If you buy or grow a cucumber that is bitter, you may be able to salvage some of it. There is more bitter in the stem end and the skin. You may be able to cut away these parts and still use much of the cucumber.
Bitterness in cucumbers comes from a compound called cucurbitacin. All cucumbers have it, but levels change depending on growing conditions.
Watch out for cucumber beetles in Maryland. They carry diseases and can wilt your cucumber plants quickly.
When buying your local cucumbers, look for dark green fruits that are heavy and firm. Yellowing indicates too much time on the plant, while soft spots indicate weak spots.
Varieties of Local Cucumbers
At the farmers market you are most likely to run across regular slicing cucumbers and pickling varieties. You may also find English, Persian, and lemon varieties.
Slicing cucumbers are generally up to twelve inches long, and are great on sandwiches or salads. They may be bitter, but if you peel them and cut away the stem end until it tastes good, you’ll be able to use most of a bitter cucumber.
Pickling cucumbers are smaller, up to six inches long. They have smaller seeds, are firmer, and have thinner skins. They are great raw too, but have smaller slices. They fit well in jars as pickles, and hold up well to pickling.
English cucumbers are longer like slicers, but have the thinner skins and smaller seeds of picklers. Their flavor is milder, and they aren’t bitter.
Persian cucumbers are short like pickling cucumbers, but are thinner. They are usually not bitter either.
Lemon cucumbers are short and fat, and look like lemons. They don’t taste like them, but have a mild flavor. They are perfect single sized cucumbers to eat fresh.
You can grow smaller, spinier, fatter cucumber varieties as well. The seed catalogs have lots of fun choices. The regular slicing and pickling varieties are what you are most likely to see locally.
Preserving Local Cucumbers
Fresh local cucumbers will last in your fridge for a week to ten days. Use them quickly to enjoy their best flavor. They don’t store much past that, so it’s good that they have such a long season to enjoy.
Cucumbers are usually eaten raw or pickled in our culture. You can add them to smoothies and drinks as well. Though you may want to try drying or freezing your cucumbers, they will change texture and never be good fresh again.
However, if smoothies are your thing, or you like gazpacho, a frozen cucumber will blend well into those dishes. You may want to dry cucumbers and blend them for a cucumber seasoning.
When it comes to canning cucumbers, they can’t hold up to pressure canning, so they are pickled and then water bath canned.
If canning isn’t your thing, you can also make refrigerator pickles. They can keep for four to six weeks in the fridge. A quick pickle doesn’t need specific recipes to be considered safe for canning, so you can experiment with sweet and savory options.
There are many pickling recipes out there for water bath canning. Before you commit to a large batch, try making a jar or two as quick pickles to make sure you like the recipe.
Local Cucumber Recipes
Cucumbers in America are usually eaten fresh or pickled. You can eat them straight, add them to salads, as well as use them in smoothies and cooling drinks.
One simple summer salad that I grew up with has diced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and thinly sliced onions mixed with Italian dressing.
Gazpacho is a cold vegetable soup that has delicious summer vegetables in it. Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions are all available at the same time.
Try mixing up watermelon, cucumber, and mint in this delicious Refreshing Watermelon Smoothie. Three seasonal ingredients!
Tzatziki sauce uses cucumber in their cooling sauce. Use it on falafel, on roasted vegetables, or as an appetizer spread.
I was first introduced to cooked cucumber in a Korean restaurant. This Korean Cucumber Side Dish sounds a lot like what I had on my bibimbap that day!
Refrigerator Pickles are easy to make in small batches for later enjoyment. Since they don’t require canning, you can alter recipes to suit your taste without worrying about bacterial contamination.
Local Cucumber Trivia
Cucumbers can be grown into special shapes using molds. If you grow your own cucumbers, try fitting a star or heart shaped mold around a few to make your salads extra fun.
A cucumber paste can be an effective way to relieve a sunburn.
Cucumbers grow with spines or hairs on them. The spines are easy to brush off, and are removed before you see cucumbers in grocery stores.
There are a lot of cucumber varieties out there that you can grow from seed, and are unlikely to see in the farmers market and certainly not the grocery store. Growing your own is the best way to sample all the different varieties out there!