Cukes and Zukes

Tis the season for cucumbers, zucchini and other summer loving members of the Cucurbitaceae family. Since cucurbitaceae is a mouthful I’m just going to call them cukes and zukes. I’ve had mixed results with these in the past so I’ve been watching and waiting to see what we’d get this year. I’m pretty happy so far, but my English and Armenian cucumbers are struggling, either from too much sun, not enough water, lack of vitamins or any combination of the above. They’re weak and yellow and spindly but I’m hoping I can revive them.

Cucumbers growing on trellis made from recycled umbrella frame
Cucumbers growing on trellis made from recycled umbrella frame

Lemon Cucumbers, shown here on our fancy umbrella-frame trellis, have done much better despite their sickly appearance. Normally you can find me squealing in adoration as each new baby veg has appears in my garden. To me, baby veg are akin to puppies and kittens and a firm hitch above human babies. Well, I have finally found a baby vegetable that doesn’t make me squeal. Sorry lemon cucumber but you look like a tiny unshaven Hep C victim.

Lemon Cucumber baby
Lemon Cucumber baby

Fortunately they shaped up quickly and I am pleased to see my lemon cukes are growing into very pretty little fruits. They really do look like a lemon! Their flavor is like a normal cucumber, if a bit milder, but it’s so hard not to imagine the tiniest hint of citrus when eating it.

Ripe Lemon Cucumbers
Ripe Lemon Cucumbers from my organic San Diego garden

Baby zucchini, on the other hand, is quite lovely, especially with its blossom attached. Normally a squash plant starts with an abundance of male flowers but my first plant shot out a couple girls. I know, they don’t look like girls, but I assure you that’s actually a female that did not get pollinated.

Zucchini Courgettes with blossoms
Zucchini Courgettes (unpollinated) with blossoms

The female flowers only open for one day, so with no males in the vicinity and no chance for pollination I decided to eat them. Sounds harsh but they’re sooo yummy! You’ll see these sometimes at the farmers markets, often labeled courgettes and going for a hefty price. I sauteed them lightly in olive oil, blooms and all, and sprinkled with sea salt. They have a really sweet, delicate flavor and don’t require much seasoning. Most people like to stuff the blossoms with goat cheese but I love them lightly coated with panko and parmesan and fried in olive oil. Last week we even grilled a couple and put them on grass-fed beef burgers and it was maybe the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Of course, the homegrown grilled Anaheim chili, lemon cucumber and Cherokee purple tomato didn’t hurt. Sadly there was no time for a photo shoot. That sucker was G-O-N-E gone.

Squash Mountain
Squash Mountain is thriving with bonus nasturtium, which seeds itself everywhere in our yard.

As for squash, I planted some new varieties this season including heirlooms sent to me from friends across the country. Being the impulsive gardener I am, I decided it would be fun to plant a random assortment, throw away the packets and just see what popped up. This seemed like a good idea at the time. Later my brain kicked in and I realized they’d all be cross-pollinating, effectively ruining their ‘heirloom’ status. I also forgot some are supposed to be picked young and others not and I don’t know which are which, but hey, what’s gardening without some surprises and lots of guesswork?

And so we built “Squash Mountain” in the middle of the front yard using extra dirt from our shop construction and brick things from around the yard. There’s even a Squash Mountain song we sing to the tune of “Moon River” but I haven’t quite worked out all the lyrics. Mostly we just wander around singing “Squaaaasshhhh MOUN-tain” in our best baritones, cracking ourselves up.

Zucchini, Striped courgette and squash blossoms
Zucchini, Striped courgette and squash blossoms

We’ve gotten several nice zucchini already and a few striped courgettes. I’m starting to see signs of something yellow sprouting but I really can’t remember what it’s going to be. Patience, grasshopper.

And since I started this blog in part to help me keep track of my garden successes and failures from year to year…

Squash & Cucumbers (Harvested June 18 to July 10):
Zucchinis: 5@ 1 lb. ea, 3 courgettes, 12 squash blossoms and 6 lemon cucumbers.

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