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The Canadian Food Experience: English Cucumbers

Vegetable Salad featuring English Cucumbers and Greenhouse Vegetables - TheMessyBaker

Living in Ontario has many advantages. Spring brings maple syrup, fiddleheads, ramps, rhubarb and garlic scapes. Summer provides back-to-back crops of fruits and vegetables starting with seed-studded strawberries and ending with juicy, sweet peaches. Good luck keeping up with all Autumn provides — apples, beets, onions, fennel, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, and kale kale kale kale kale. But in winter? By February I could kill for something fresh and green and full of light summertime flavours.

Fortunately, Ontario is home to 224 greenhouses that produce more than 2,272 acres of tomatoes, peppers and English cucumbers outside Nature’s unaided growing season. While peppers and tomatoes are grown 9 months of the year, local cucumbers are available year round. Yes, even on the greyest, coldest, most dreary winter day, the cucumbers are guaranteed to be fresh, local and as tasty as their summertime counterparts. Take that 4000-kilometre plastic strawberries!

How do I know all this?

I took a tour.

I thought Episode 2 of the The Canadian Food Experience Project would be an ideal time to hail this regional vegetable. (The Canadian Food Experience began on June 7, 2013. As of today, 80 participants have taken on the monthly challenge to share their stories about Canadian food. Check them out. If you missed it, my first post is here.)

The Green Greenhouse

English cucumber vines growing in an Ontario Greenhouse - TheMessyBaker.com

English cucumber vines in early days.

As part of the 2013 Farm & Food Care Ontario tour, I got a first-hand look at how English cucumbers are grown at Beverly Greenhouses in Dundas, Ontario. They kindly allowed a group of food writers, recipe developers and nutritionists to take photos, ask questions and generally poke about their business. Here’s what I learned.

Greenhouse cucumbers are grown hydroponically in a closed-loop system. Nothing gets wasted. The water used in growing the crops is recaptured, cleaned and recirculated so not a drop is wasted.

Wood chips from waste wood — old shipping pallets, for example — heat the greenhouses, so no trees die for your cucumber salad.

Even the planter gets recycled into bricks for houses.

English cucumbers growing in an Ontario greenhouse - TheMessyBaker.com

Integrated Pest Control

Growers use as many natural techniques as possible. These sachets contain mites which like to eat pesky thrips as much as pesky thrips like to eat cucumbers.

Integrated Pest Control being used in an Ontario greenhouse growing cucumbers - TheMessyBaker.com

The purple-tinged plant growing in the greenhouse rafters is just one of the plants encouraging the good bugs to hang around and keeping spider mites, flies and aphids at bay.

Plants grown to encourage beneficial insects in an Ontario greenhouse - TheMessyBaker.com

Picking and Packing English Cucumbers

English cucumbers grow thick and tall. This shot shows the vines, about 7-feet high, laden with cucumbers just begging to be picked.

English cucumbers growing in an Ontario greenhouse - TheMessyBaker.com

When the cucumbers are ready, workers use carts on a nifty rail system so the crops don’t get damaged.

Picking greenhouse cucumbers on a large scale - TheMessyBaker.com

Once picked, workers pack up to 240 cucumbers a minute (which adds up to more than 12,000 by the time the working day is done).

Each cucumber is shrink-wrapped at 265°C to extend its shelf-life. Because the process is so quick — it takes only 1.5 seconds — the cucumber’s temperature drops by only 1°C. Not bad.

Sorting cucumbers in an Ontario greenhouse - TheMessyBaker.com

Interesting English Cucumber Facts

  • Each English cucumber seed costs $0.70.
  • A single cucumber vine yields about 30 cucumbers.
  • An English cucumber grows to maturity in 17 days during the summer.
  • Growing time more than doubles in winter, taking up to 30 days.

So now you, too, know how cucumbers arrive fresh and locally grown in Ontario stores regardless of the time of year or outside temperature.

To toast the hard working greenhouse growers, I made a salad with the three local Ontario greenhouse crops  - with a bit of fennel and feta thrown in for good measure (and alliteration). This Improv Recipe is flexible so change it up as you see fit using the local ingredients available to you.

Greenhouse Vegetable, Fennel and Feta Salad
Author: 
Recipe type: Salads
Prep / inactive time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
This vegetable is full of garden vegetables and topped with feta. Fennel adds a bit of liquorice.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium vine ripened tomato, chopped
  • ¼ large yellow pepper, chopped
  • ¼ large orange pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup fennel, thinly sliced
  • 8 " English cucumber, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 4oz feta, crumbled
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. In a large salad bowl, toss the chopped tomato, peppers, fennel, and cucumber gently.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  3. Pour the dressing over the vegetables. Sprinkle with feta and basil. Toss and add a grind of fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.
Notes
Improv variations

• substitute halved grape or cherry tomatoes
• change the herbs, dill works nicely with cucumber
• use lemon and lime instead of orange juice
• add some leafy greens to the mix

The Canadian Food Experience Project is a monthly series of themed posts from participating Canadian food bloggers across the country. By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the elusive question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”

Read us. Talk to us. Join us. Then eat.

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8 Responses to The Canadian Food Experience: English Cucumbers

  1. Korena July 8, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    How cool that the growing process is basically waste free and self-contained! The salad look great – so refreshing.
    Korena recently posted…The Canadian Food Experience Project: BC Spot Prawn CioppinoMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie July 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      I was pleasantly surprised by how green the greenhouses are! Love the natural pest control, too.

  2. Catherine July 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    I just had a barrel aged feta salad along with an English cuke, huge vine ripened tomato, sliced spring onion, Italian olive oil from a neighbour’s Italian home and sprinkled it with some oregano. Added some sourdough bread. I am in England. I love cukes and so does my dog.

    • Charmian Christie July 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Sounds amazing! I’m jealous of the olive oil from your neighbour’s home in Italy. It tasted different when I was there. Placebo effect or a better product? I should do some more in-depth research.

      Love that your dog enjoys English cucumbers. Just don’t share the barrel-aged feta with him. :-)

  3. bellini July 9, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    When my parents first moved to Canada they lived very close o Dundas, I am sure it ha changed but we hiked many times at Websters Falls.

    • Charmian Christie July 9, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      Things have changed quite a bit, but the area still has lots of natural space. Webster’s Falls is still gorgeous although the staircase to the falls is now off limits to the public. Fortunately, you can still get views of the falls themselves from Dundas Peak. I haven’t been in years. Must correct that!

  4. A Canadian Foodie July 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I have never had this kind of a tour and always wanted to learn about this kind of thing. Thank you for sharing this as it is WONDERFUL that these are grown locally and not imported. I am floored that one seed costs 70 cents… I cannot understand why as there are thousands of them in each cucumber… I love this vegetable and had no idea there were this many green houses in the TO area. Incredible. The recipe sounds a bit like autumn with the fennel and orange. I have no idea why I think that. I am not allowed to use fennel in our family meals (and obey as I want what I make to be eaten) but, will definitely make this salad and take it to the next gal party I trek off to. YUM.
    :)
    V
    A Canadian Foodie recently posted…The Canadian Food Experience Project: Round Up TwoMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie July 27, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      These cucumbers are seedless hybrid and can’t reproduce on their own. I guess it’s kind of like a mule. :-)

      I’m sorry fennel is forbidden at your table. It goes very nicely with the cucumber, especially with orange and feta tossed into the mix. A party is the ideal workaround. Enjoy!

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