I first published this post in the spring of last year, when local cucumbers were just starting to come off the vine and appear at local farmers’ markets.
Now in the Summer of 2020, cukes are in their prime and from the newsletters and social media posts I am seeing from local farmers, there are a lot of cucumbers to be had this season.
There is nothing quite like a fresh picked, ripe local cucumber. Same for ripe-off-the-vine tomatoes and just picked peaches. Cucumbers are easy to grow and so for you, that could mean that “Local” is the purchase you make at the farmers’ market, or those you pick from your back door kitchen garden.
Local cucumbers aren’t just for salad any more…
This member of the melon family offers a crisp and crunchy snap to the bite. The watery, sweet, fresh taste make cucumbers a wonderful all purpose food this time of year. Great for sweet and savory options across the board.
Chop them for salsas, sliced them thin for sandwiches or dehydrate them for chips. You can bathe them in vinegar-based brines for pickles, and puree them for soups and sorbets, too!
Cucumbers can help to freshen your breathe and clean your teeth when your toothbrush isn’t right at hand. Try eating a slice or two of local cucumber after a strong cup of coffee or a spicy meal to see what I mean.
Local Cucumbers taste good and are good for you, too!
Local cucumbers are a great source of vitamin C, magnesium and potassium and are good for you inside and out. The high water content, makes them a food that will help you hydrate; and they are low in calories (always a good thing) and offer up a lot of fiber your body can use to help eliminate unwanted toxins.
Feeling stressed? Take 15 minutes to relax and use thin sliced local cucumber as a face mask. The cucumber’s unique anti- inflammatory properties will help sooth and refresh puffy eyes tired from too much screen time at the computer and your skin will feel better too.
Edible Cucumber Flowers
The tiny little yellow flowers that spot the vine as the budding cucumbers start to grow are delicious as well, packed with a concentrated cucumber taste, they make a perfect edible garnish for anything lemony or flavored with dill or tarragon.
One of my favorite local cucumber-y party foods is a chilled cucumber soup. I use it as a foil for grilled shrimp and as a great excuse to break out fun shot glasses and cute tiny straws to create a clever way to serve. Some people just don’t get cold soups – but when you pour the creamy flavorful broth in a fun class and call it a summer cocktail starter, well then, that’s a different story.
Cucumbers, Citrus and Peaches
If you are looking for flavors to pair with your cukes turn to citrus or local peaches. Lemon, orange, tangerine or the flavor of a ripe peach all brighten the taste and aroma of any cucumber recipe. You can add a citrusy flavor by using the juice of the fruit – or a more intense version by using the zest – the yellow, or orange part of the skin of any citrus fruit contains the oils which offer a more intense variation on the fruit’s bright flavor.
Puree a peach and add the pulp to add a peachy taste to any recipe – in fact you can add local peaches to my Cucumber and Melon granite recipe below with outstanding results.
JUST PICKED LOCAL CUCUMBER LEMON SOUP
What you’ll need:
4 medium sized local cucumbers
1 cup Greek-style plain yogurt ( I generally use the yogurt style cheese from my friend Zack Gadberry cheesemaker at Uno Alla Volta Cheese available in Charlotte on Saturday mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers’ market.
1 cup local buttermilk ( I particularly like Hickory Hills Farm and Ran Lew Dairy Buttermilk)
Zest of one fresh organic lemon
1 Tbsp. fresh minced cilantro
Local Sea Salt to taste
Here’s the How To:
Peel the cucumbers if you would like. I like keeping the skin on for the color that it brings to the soup. Cut the cukes into quarters and place in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree.
Add the yogurt and buttermilk and then the lemon, cilantro and OuterBanks SeaSalt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Taste and adjust seasonings and enjoy.
To grill the shrimp, take off the shells, leaving the tails on. Toss the shrimp in 2 Tbsp. of your favorite EVOO. Season with salt and pepper and place on a hot grill pan or in a saute pan and cook for about a minute or so on each side until the shrimp is pink and slightly curled. Remove from the pan and chill until you are ready to serve.
If you don’t add shrimp to the cucumber soup and would like another fun and summery side try this recipe for my Sweet Pea Toasts – you can serve them on toasted bread OR for fun serve them on a slice of toasted sweet potato!
And with your soup of local cucumbers: Sweet Pea Toasts
1 box frozen organic baby green peas
1 Tbsp. your favorite EVOO
zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. fresh minced mint leaves
1 tsp. fresh minced thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
thin sliced salami, local smoked trout or strips of sun dried tomato
toasted bread rounds
Puree defrosted peas till smooth. Fold in olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on tasted bread rounds. Top with thin sliced salami or a strip of sun dried tomato.
Local Cucumber, Peach and Melon Granité
1/2 honeydew or honeymoon melon
1-2 firm but ripe local peaches, peeled
4 local cucumbers, peeled or not, quartered
Puree the cucumber, melon and peaches in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree. Pour the puree into large ice cube trays and freeze for a couple of hours. Pop the cucumber-melon cubes out and pulverize them in a blender to make an ice or granité. Refreeze and then serve whenever you need a light and refreshing little snack or serve as an intermezzo between two heavier courses at dinner. This granité is also delicious atop a bowl of fresh fruit at breakfast!!
SPRINGTIME LOCAL CUCUMBER AND BERRY SALSA
2 medium cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise
1 pint local strawberries or blueberries, stemmed and cut in half
1 charred jalapeno, chopped ( to Char: place the fresh jalapeno on a grill pan or in a frying pan and cook over medium heat ( with no oil) until the jalapeno starts to blacken -turn to blacked on all sides and then allow to cool before using.)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 Tbsp. local apple cider vinegar (or you can substitute a delicious new Peach Vinaigrette I just found at Sara’s Fresh Market in Trenton SC)
1 Tbsp. organic sugar
Scoop the seeds out of the cucumber halves and then cut the remaining cucumber “shells” into crescent-shaped slices. Toss in a bowl with the berries and jalapeno ( if you remove the seeds the salsa will be more mild; if you chop the seeds into the mix the salsa will be spicier) Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Refrigerate.)
More Salsa Ideas
In the spring and summer when local produce, like local cucumbers, is plentiful; salsa is a great way to preserve the flavors. Check out a variation on the theme of this salsa recipe with another spicy strawberry salsa recipe I love to serve with grilled local beef . Or since local strawberries are all but gone now, substitute local peaches for the strawberries and continue to enjoy!
A new fun way to serve cukes in a salad
Looking for another fun way to use cucumbers? Why not cut off each end and the hollow it out from one side – almost to the bottom. Use them as a vase for your salad greens. This is one I did for a dinner party earlier this month. I stuffed my “vase” with a variety of local greens and microgreens; and then dressed the salad made with local tomatoes, carrots, sliced chioggia beets and edible flowers. You could easily spice it up by tossing your homemade salsa into the mix! The possibilities are endless!
And after all the local cucumbers, for dessert try, Heidi Billotto’s Springtime Lemon Pots De Crème
3/4 cup organic sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups Hickory Hill Milk Cream Top Whole Milk
Zest of two lemons
10 large egg yolks (to make the Pots de Crème extra rich, I use local duck eggs from Ferrebee Farm – available at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market)
Sweetened whipped cream and fresh local berries, and cucumber flowers for garnish
What to do:
Preheat at 325 degree oven. Put eight 6-oz. ramekins in a large roasting pan or baking dish with high sides.
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar. Warm over low heat until the sugar melts into the juice. Add in the Hickory Hill whole milk and, stirring occasionally, bring up to a simmer. Just at the point where steam starts to rise off the liquid in the pan, remove from the pan from the heat.
Tip – Take care not to walk away while you are warming the milk. Fresh dairy products can come to a boil quickly and will boil up and over the pan in no time!
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth, thick and light yellow in color.
Temper the eggs gently by whisking in a ladleful of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and then whisk the now warmed yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk.
Cook slowly, over low heat, stirring constantly, 3 to 4 minutes.
Here’s a Helpful Tip on How To Stir A Custard
First, be sure you use a wooden spoon to stir the custard and if you keep the tip of the spoon on the bottom of the pan and stir in the shape of a figure 8, then the custard won’t over cook or stick to the bottom of the pan.
Then, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon zest – or yellow part of the rind – from 2 lemons.
Divide the mixture among individual sized ramekins and place the ramekins in a roasting pan or a baking sheet with sides.
Use a Bain Marie for gentler cooking
For a gentler cooking process, pour enough hot water into the pan around the filled ramekins so that it comes about one-quarter of the way up the sides of the ramekins. This water bath is called a Bain Marie. Cover the ramekins with a sheet of foil (simply lay the sheet on top, don’t crimp the edges) and bake for 35 minutes at 325.
Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a heavy duty cake or cooling rack. Let the custards cool to room temperature in their water bath. Remove the custards from the bath, cover them with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.
Garnish with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, local berries and if you would like edible springtime flowers.
Where to find your local cucumbers and more:
I’ve tried to put the name of the farm by all of the local products I’ve used in recipes here – if you have any questions about where to find something, just comment at the end of this post and I can help you locate what you need.
All the local cucumbers and cucumber flowers I used in the recipes here came from Tega Hills Farm in Ft. Mill, SC…Thanks to my farmer friends Mark and Mindy Robinson for for letting me come in after hours to take photos of cucumbers on the vine in the greenhouse. You may purchase Tega Hills Farms hydroponic lettuces and microgreens, cucumbers and more from the farm store open every day and on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market.
Interested in more? If you’d like to plan a private cooking class for a wedding or baby shower, birthday party or jut a fun couples night out evening, in person or virtually via Zoom, simply shoot me an email at HLNC@carolina.rr.com and we’ll get a date on the calendar.
If you like what you’ve been reading, why not plan to enjoy more? Subscribe to my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com by simply entering your email in the box at the top of the right hand column on my home page. Posts will come to your inbox as soon as they hit!