When was the last time you were truly shocked by a cucumber? For me, it was a few months ago at Dough Zone, the shiny new soup dumpling spot that overlooks South Waterfront Park (1910 S River Dr). I ordered a spicy cucumber salad, figuring I needed a vegetable in my diet. I wielded my chopsticks and picked up one of the slices of cucumbers arranged neatly into a circle. When I realized that it was just one long cucumber, artfully coiled like a springy ramen noodle, I nearly jumped back, much like cats do when they see cucumbers in those viral YouTube videos of yore. As it turns out, spiral-cut cucumber salads are equally fun to eat as they are to look at—they’re perhaps even crunchier than straight-up slices, with extra bounce. Dough Zone’s version is refreshing and ideal for summer, delicately balancing sweet, tangy, and a hint of spice—and ideal for pairing with fat, juicy soup dumplings.
Those spirally cucumber salads would continue to haunt me via TikTok, where I discovered the secret behind the technique. Place chopsticks on either side of the cucumber, then make diagonal cuts on the cucumber. Flip the cucumber over and make horizontal cuts. I snagged a bag of Persian cucumbers to try it on my own, and I’m happy to report that pretty much anyone can make spiralized cucumber salad—except maybe Kendall Jenner, who created a viral cucumber video of her own in May as she first nearly sliced her thumbs off, then awkwardly crossed one arm over the other in an attempt to hold the rolling cuke still.
But there are plenty of other ways to enjoy your cucumbers in Portland (you could even drink them in 10 Barrel’s Cucumber Crush sour beer, an award-winning year-round offering). At Cafe Olli, the summer panzanella salad is a meal on its own, featuring cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and whipped sheep's cheese with massive croutons of rustic housemade, olive oil-drenched bread. While cucumbers often feel like watery filler in a salad, that isn’t the case here, where the cucumbers had a hint of sweetness that complemented the tomato perfectly.
Luckily, the rise of the cucumber on TikTok coincides with peak cucumber season, and this is a trend you can easily incorporate into your own home cooking. While you can grab plastic-wrapped English cucumbers year-round, there are plenty of locally-grown cucumber varieties that are peaking right now—and they’ll only be available for the next three weeks or so.
“Now is a really great time to go down to the farmers market or come to a specialty grocery store like ours,” says Josh Alsberg, owner of Rubinette Produce within Providore Fine Foods (2340 NE Sandy Blvd). “The one thing that's so important about buying local is that you are getting it right when it's harvested, usually not more than a day or two. …So it's going to have a lot more flavor, the nutrient content is going to be a lot higher, and it's just going to have a brighter taste.”
At Rubinette, you might find six or seven varieties of cucumbers at any given time. Aside from the usual year-round suspects of English and Persian cucumbers, you might find lemon cucumbers, which are small, round, and yellow, ideal for slicing into salads like a panzanella or a melon-cucumber-mint salad. There’s also a silver slicer, which sounds more like a Marvel superhero than a cucurbit. It’s got thin, bright white skin and a sweet, delicate flavor, with less bitterness than you’d find in your average grocery store variety.
Of course, this year was a tough one for farmers, with snow in April and an extended rainy season followed by intense heat waves. That means cucumber season was delayed by about three weeks this year—it typically starts in late June—and many farms weren’t able to offer their usual variety of specialty crops. Take the cucamelon, an adorable 2-inch-tall cucumber-melon hybrid that looks like a miniature watermelon and tastes like a hybrid between a cucumber and a melon. Typically, Providore would be able to stock cucamelons from several farms at this point in the season, but at this point, they’re hoping to get a batch from one farm in a couple weeks. And prices for all local cucumbers have risen accordingly. For specialty cucumbers, expect to pay between $3.99 and $5.99 per pound.
“There's a very small margin in local farming, unfortunately. And I think people aren't really aware of the true costs of what it takes to grow food here in the Northwest,” says Alsberg. “The cost of land is so extraordinary here. …And not only that, but trying to source water. If you don't have water rights, it can be very expensive. …Most of the farms that I work with don't spray any kind of pesticide, so what they need to do is come up with their own inputs, whether it be compost tea, or any kind of natural inoculation—it’s a very expensive process. And now, with inflation, the cost of everything has gone up.”
Of course, there’s one way to stock up on cucumbers that’ll last year-round regardless of weather: pickles. Pickles are trending in their own right—we just picked up dill pickle potato chip salad and dill pickle falafel at Trader Joe’s, where we also spotted dill pickle seasoning, dill pickle popcorn, and dill pickle mustard. And what better way to enjoy a pickle than in the classic summer treat: a corn dog? At Honey Butter Country Fare (4631 N Albina Ave), a cart just north of Mississippi’s main drag, corn dogs are endlessly customizable, always gluten-free, and vegan if you wish. You can even sub out the standard hot dog for a pickle. Our strategy would be to go for the pickle dog served Linus and Lucy style: topped with peanut sauce, garlic and onion chili oil, and green onions, and say yes to the optional crushed potato chip garnish. Like those Great Depression-era peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, but instead full of great joy.