Cool as a Cucumber

supposedly comes from the fact that cucumber skin is cool to the touch, even when the weather is hot – a gift from the fruits’ water content and from the vines’ sheltering leaves. The analogy first shows up in print in 1732, meaning pretty much what it means today.

Not quite that much antiquity for my favorite cucumber, but Boothby’s Blonde does go back a while, too, somewhere around 5 generations in the Boothby family of Livermore, Maine.

a baby Boothby Blonde, spines still too young to color

It’s short and blocky like a pickling cuke, and it does make excellent sweet cucumber pickles ( assuming you like sweet cucumber pickles), but the great thing is that unlike every other cucumber in creation it doesn’t get nasty when it starts to get ripe.

The flesh stays flavorful and crisp even when seeds are well developed, and the seeds themselves are almost sweet in all stages of development. This is useful to know, because like alas all too many vegetables they tend to arrive at the farmers market only when they are way bigger than they should be.

Ideal size is about 4 inches long and a bit more than an inch in diameter, at which stage the skin is white to very pale primrose and the black spines are barely there. Boothbys you see at the market tend to be more like 6×2, with golden skin ( and bumps where the spines were, the spines having been rubbed off). Of course, that’s only insofar as you see them at all, they’re one of those heirlooms that’s poised on the brink but hasn’t yet become a marketing clichaé.

In addition to their other merits, they’re madly prolific, and reasonably quick to bear – about 60 days from seed to first bite. That means it’s a bit late to start a fall crop in the Northeast, but if you garden in a sheltered spot, or anywhere south of New Jersey; there’s still time to give ’em a try.

Lots of specialty seed companies carry Boothby’s Blonde, but why not buy from the outfit that has done so much to keep heirlooms alive: Seed Savers Exchange.

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