Nothing Says Summer Like Cucumbers and Peppers! While Their Seasons Don’t Always Overlap for Long, There Are Plenty of Things to Do With These Quintessential Summer Vegetables.
Cucumbers and peppers are two summer favorites, and grown right, they can both be quite prolific. (Right now I have about 15 lbs of cucumbers on the counter and in the refrigerator!)
Pickles, salsa, relish, and gazpacho are all great ways to use up some of the extras you’ve got on hand.
The article below shares some helpful tips for growing these yummy summer veggies successfully, as well as some ideas for what to do with all that produce when you do!
Cucumbers and peppers shine in the summer garden, with different, though equally mouthwatering, roles. Cucumbers ripen in the temperate early summer, whereas peppers take their time and wait for late summer’s warmth, especially in cool climates. Cucumbers are forever linked with the word “cool.” Peppers, in color and many in pungency, are emblems of heat.
During the weeks when their seasons overlap, cucumbers and peppers are often paired in the kitchen because they’re both so refreshing and crisp when raw. Prized for color, flavor and texture, they shimmer when set side by side on the crudité platter, tossed together in a green salad, folded into a summer omelet, mixed in a spicy salsa, or combined in a classic gazpacho.
As with most fruiting crops, cukes need a sunny garden spot. Plant in warm soil after danger of frost is past. Sow seeds directly, or set out transplants that are no more than 3 weeks old. Trellising is a must. The best cucumbers grow on vines and would require an irresponsible amount of space if left to sprawl. Try growing them on a tall lattice fence, or on a homemade trellis built from a wooden or metal-pipe frame. You can also rig up metal or nylon mesh for a trellis, or just let the vines climb up lengths of string. The vines will want to reach upward, holding onto whatever they find, but plastic tomato trellis clips will keep the unruly plants tidy. Give the plants steady moisture. If cucumber beetles show up, remove them with the crevice tool attachment on a cordless shop vacuum — suck them up early in the day while they’re still sluggish.
Cooking with Cucumbers
Cucumbers are cherished for crunchiness, whether eaten in a sandwich with watercress and mayo; put into service as a canapé “cracker”; or folded into protein-based salads made with shrimp, lobster, tuna, chicken or hard-boiled eggs. Nothing stretches these salads better than cukes when unexpected guests sit down at your table. A platter of sliced cucumbers is a great last-minute dish to take to a potluck, mixed with a few sliced onions, green herbs such as dill, and vinaigrette or — better yet — plain yogurt and sour cream. Or, toss a cucumber and some buttermilk into your blender for a quick, cold soup. The best way to store cucumbers for winter eating is to ferment or can them into pickles.
Peppers need a warm start, so gardeners usually sow them indoors to get a jump on the season. Pick off the first flush of blossoms to encourage plant growth. Give the plants ample water and fertile soil, but not excessive nitrogen, which will encourage vegetation at the expense of fruit. You needn’t trellis peppers in a home garden because the plants are neither tall nor vining, but a bumper crop can sometimes topple a plant. For support, tie each plant to a bamboo stake poked into the ground next to the stem, or use the wire frames commonly sold as tomato cages. As with cucumbers, peppers are best harvested with snips or a sharp knife. Pulling the fruits off may injure the plant.
Cooking with Peppers
Peppers shine in cooked dishes, whether stuffed and fried, stuffed and baked, fried in hot oil, tossed into a curry, or roasted and then turned into a creamy soup or dip. They are also among the easiest vegetables to dry. String chiles up or lay them out on newspaper in any warm spot in the house. Store dried peppers in the dark to preserve their color. You can also pulverize dried peppers in an electric coffee grinder to create homemade paprika or chile powders.
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