What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Japanese Cucumbers
A. Simmons Japanese cucumbers from Yasutomi Farms.
The cucumber sandwich is a posh punch-line. We think of feathery pads of crustless white bread layered with butter and icy green wafers. They're arranged like tiles on silver platters at high teas presided over by the wigged, rouged, and powdered. "We need more of THESE," coos one glassy-eyed aristocrat, topping off his tea cup with a few splashes of brandy. Downstairs, scullery maids shave cucumbers and smear butter, trying desperately not to tear the delicate squares of bread.
As we write, we are in our apartment, actually eating a cucumber sandwich: Japanese cucumbers with a creamy glaze of Kewpie mayo on sourdough, crusts unsnipped. We're accompanying it with side one of the Bee Gee's under-sung 1970 album Cucumber Castle (soundtrack to an unfortunate TV movie of the same name). Grown hydroponically year-round on Yasutomi Farm's five acres in Pico Rivera, these cucumbers we are eating may not be of the season but they are the best we have ever had.
We buy them on Sundays at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. We do not know how much they cost. We've never been able to figure that out because the price--based on the change we receive for a $5 bill--seems to vary every week. Each plastic bag contains three or four curved green sticks. Their exteriors are pebbled yet slick, an alien's arm in rigor mortis, we are now thinking as we finish the sandwich and move on to a second cucumber, sans bread and spread. To the touch, they possess none of the saggy interior softness we associate with supermarket behemoths, or even the Armenian and English cucumbers prized for their tasty flesh and thin skins. Prickle-free and practically seedless, they eat like apples, snappy and loud; their flavor is more cucumber-y than that of other cucumbers--cleaner, super-vegetal, and shockingly refreshing.
As we sit, and eat, and listen, Barry Gibb bounces around our living room, disembodied and sweet, stacking up a citadel of sound. We want to sandwich ourself in a castle of cucumbers from Yasutomi Farm and peer out at the world through slits in the cool spears. We're normally more readily captivated by richer, headier fare, but here we are, tearing through a bag (one, two, and now a third cucumber), listening to the Bee Gees (now the second side), wishing we could pickle ourself just to know them better.