Cucamelons: a bright addition to summer salads
With their crunchy skin and fresh cucumber flavour enhanced with a squeeze of lime zest, cucamelons – or Mexican Sour Gherkins as they are also known – are a bright addition to summer salads. They are ready for harvest in August and September and are a lucky find at farmers’ markets; this is the time to give them a try.
A few small community-run farmers’ markets have recently opened around us. Alongside the well-established and larger public farmers’ markets, they connect producers with their local community and support the local economy; they also offer small businesses the opportunity to grow. Small and cozy with the hint of a country fair, they set up in “parkettes” and empty parking lots, each market with its own personality and flair, the face of the neighbourhood it serves. On stalls alongside the usual fresh produce are little known vegetables and new horticultural varieties of classic staples with interesting flavours and colours to brighten up our plates.
I found cucamelons at the Old Ottawa East community-run farmers’ market. They were piled up in small boxes, looking like cute grape-size watermelons with the characteristic markings on their semi-soft rind. They are actually small cucumbers and not hybrids as their name and look suggest. Although new to us, cucamelons have been cultivated in their native Central America for hundreds of years, known there as sandiitas (little watermelons).
As well as supplementing summer salads, they are also excellent for pickling, says Brett Weddle of his signature vegetable. When preserved in brine, their firm rind retains the crunchiness better than sliced cucumbers.
Weddle discovered cucamelons while networking at a farmer’s conference and added them to the 40 or so vegetables that he grows in his Cadence Ecological Farm located within the Just Food property on Innis Road. That was in 2017 when, after getting a degree in environmental science (ecology), a brief stint as a geographic information systems analyst and eventually an internship with Rainbow Heritage Gardens, he started his career as a farmer and educator to satisfy his yearning for soil and plants. That first year, the seedlings for his initial crop were sprouted in trays in the attic of his grandparents’ house. The following year, he was offered the opportunity to manage the small farmers’ market located on Main Street in the parking lot beside Singing Pebbles Books. Founded in 2009, it is one of the oldest community-run markets in Ottawa. Weddle has been the force behind it since he took the job four years ago.
But farming and managing the market are not Weddle’s only occupations. As an educator, he opens his farm to young people who want to improve their skills, and he gives them the experience they need to enter the workforce. He also teaches part-time at Earth Path, the Ottawa-based, non-profit organization that provides year-round nature education programs for children and adults who are seeking a meaningful connection with Mother Nature.
It has been a while since some of us met the younger Weddle working in the produce section at Glebe Metro. Now we find him at the Old Ottawa East market on Saturdays and have a chat about the planned market relocation, relish his enthusiasm for everything natural, and maybe subscribe to his new Community Sustained Agriculture fall program.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods.
Heirloom tomatoes come in all different colours, shapes, sizes and flavours. Choose a variety of these seasonal gems to add interest to your salad.
2 cups heirloom tomatoes
1 cup cucamelons
½ cup feta cheese
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut tomatoes and cucamelons in half, add olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix gently and top with fresh basil leaves and crumbs of feta cheese. So simple, so fresh!
Good also with a chopped avocado drizzled with lemon juice.
4 cups green leaf lettuce cut in small pieces
½ apple with good sweetness, cut in quarters, sliced thin and splashed with lemon juice
½ cup cucamelons, cut in half lengthwise
7-8 mint leaves, cut in small pieces
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Salt to taste
You may not need all the dressing for this fragrant crunchy salad with a hint of sweetness.
For other recipes with cucamelons, check ediblebrooklyn.com/2015/what-to-make-with-mexican-sour-gherkins/