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A Gourd Relative : Members of this 'total summertime crop'--popular in salads and for pickling--are 95% water.


With its thin green skin encasing a flesh made up of 95% liquid, the common cucumber might be called the vegetable version of a water balloon.

This salad and relish staple isn't grown on a grand scale in Ventura County, but a few varieties are available at local produce outlets.

"It's a total summertime crop," said Maryann Carpenter, who offers a couple varieties of cukes at two area farmers' markets.

Actually a member of the gourd family, this vine-grown fruit requires a warm bed of soil to sprout seeds and the beaming sun to aid in pollination.

"You can grow through mid-October in this area," Carpenter said.

From now until then, Carpenter's organically grown cukes of the common salad variety will be available at the Thursday Thousand Oaks and Saturday Ventura farmers' markets.

Carpenter will also be selling a pickling cucumber.

"There's still some old-fashioned people out there that choose to pickle their own," Carpenter said. "In fact that's why a lot of the people purchase these."

Crunchy and mild, the smallish cucumbers also go well in salads, she said.

There are two novelty varieties being raised in the area that you aren't likely to come across in commercial markets.

John Fuji raises a Japanese variety indoors, which allows him to sell his bounty year-round at the Thousand Oaks and Ventura (Saturday) markets.

Thin at one inch in diameter and up to a foot long, this seedless cuke is used exclusively in fresh preparations, Fuji said. "They have a texture of a pickling cuke--they're firm. If you snap them, you'll get a clean shear."

This sweet, seedless type goes for $1.25 a pound.

"That's a little pricey, but I feel it's worth it. Some people tell us we're the only ones they get cukes from because the taste is so much more delicate."

Another novelty type is the mild-flavored Armenian cucumber--actually a type of melon--being raised at Tierra Rejada Ranch in Moorpark.

This long, curving pale green variety is recognizable by its ribbed texture running lengthwise.

Though not quite harvest-ready, give the stand a call and ask about availability of the Armenian cucumber and other you-pick veggies. (3370 Moorpark Road; 529-3690.)

At the supermarkets your best--and probably only--choices are the common slicer and the cellophane-wrapped European variety.

When purchasing the slicers, customers should look for dark green, extremely firm fruit.

Right now the going rate is about 59 cents apiece.

The mild, thin-skinned European--grown in hothouses--will cost around $1.

This mildly sweet gourmet variety--with a mild, delicate skin that is less bitter than the regular cuke--is also available in abundance at three area farmers' markets.

Fillmore grower Bob Beylik raises his hothouse cukes hydroponically.

Watch for him in Ventura (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and in Thousand Oaks.


This week's easy-to-prepare salad suggestion comes courtesy of Maryann Carpenter, who sells cucumbers and other veggies at the Thursday Thousand Oaks and Saturday Ventura farmers' markets.

Cucumber and tomato vinaigrette

2 large cucumbers

4 large tomatoes

1/3 cup minced parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Slice cucumbers and tomatoes into medium slices. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with parsley. Mix garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, basil and pepper and pour over cucumbers and tomatoes. Cover and chill at least two hours. Serves four to six. You may also want to add slices of red onion or bell pepper.

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