It’s clear Andrew Marvell never grew cucumbers in Vermont: the 17th-century metaphysical poet wrote, My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow.*
We hedged our bets with the cucumbers last spring by planting extra seeds on account of the cold. They germinated better than expected, and I was too softhearted to thin them properly. As a result, we have a tangle of vines and a bumper crop of cukes.
The vines are flourishing along the fence, where they’ve crept up the wire mesh, over the rail and out the garden. They’re threatening to knit the gate shut. At first, I tried to train the vines aside; now that the vines are bearing with such abundance, I’m less careful.
I peer into the tangle to find the fruit hiding beneath the furry, arrowhead leaves. As I hunt for ripe cucumbers to harvest, I take note of the bees working the perky, yellow blooms, and of the gherkin-sized cucumbers that have set and started to grow.
Even though I check the vines morning and evening, I’m always discovering newly ready cukes for salad, pickles and soup. Inevitably, I discover a blimp – a cucumber I missed. I’ve started checking for more cukes every time I walk from my studio to the house. I always think I’ve found them all, but daily, there’s one that gets away. I suspect they grow behind my back, out of spite. It’s therefore with some malicious glee that I toss these bloated cucumbers to the hens.
With such an abundance of cucumbers, we’ll replenish the pantry with pickles. I’ve already put up one batch of Bread and Butters, which will add sharpness and sunshine to grilled cheese on gray days from November through May. I’ve also fermented some half-sour kosher dills, which will keep in the downstairs fridge till Thanksgiving. This year, I’m going to investigate lacto-fermentation and see how long they’ll last in the basement while wishing, yet again, we had a proper root cellar. Sigh. If the vines keep producing, I may put up some relish or sour mustard chips.
Meanwhile, we’re also eating them fresh. At my dad’s ninetieth birthday party last Saturday, we served a salad of homegrown cucumbers tossed with rice wine vinegar, feta cheese and mint. Another day, we ate our version of tzatziki: grated cucumber mixed with thick yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and dill. I’ll make a cucumber raita to go with a curry, wilted cucumber salad to go with nori rolls, and a cold cucumber soup for the dog days approaching. And this time of year, I also snack cucumbers warm from the garden.
This is the moment when summer’s at its height, the garden its most luxurious. I know this abundance won’t last. At my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.*
*Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.