Cool as a Cucumber
C-U-C-U-M-B-E-R. It’s the very first word I learned how to spell.
If that sounds like a funny choice for a beginner speller, consider that it was my favourite food at the time. And we didn’t have a D-O-G or C-A-T.
Although other foods have probably surpassed the cucumber to become my favourites since, I still love ’em. At the very least, I can safely say it’s my favourite gourd. And, although many sophisticated people seem to prefer the long, plastic-wrapped English cuke, I still prefer the juicy field cucumber of my youth — and this time of year is just about last call for fresh, local ones.
We all know cucumbers work with some drinks, since it’s a standard garnish on the Pimm’s Cup and some more elaborate Caesars. But I wondered if I could up my cucumber game and find a way to get more of that cool, crisp and refreshing flavour into a cocktail.
For advice, I turned to Steve Benson, one of Ottawa’s best-known bartenders, currently in charge of Salt Dining Lounge’s bar program. Benson thinks that cucumbers, which can really “brighten up” a cocktail, should get more airplay than they do.
“I get a lot of odd looks and sideways glances when I start a training session and pull out a cucumber,” says Benson. “Young bartenders can’t seem to believe it’s going to work in anything but a salad.”
Benson says this is the perfect time of year to savour the last gasp of summer produce. “Cucumbers have a freshness to them that can’t be beat,” he says. “But, unlike the way you’d treat it for a soup, you don’t want to seed it, since so much of that fresh flavour is in that centre almost-jelly bit around the seeds.”
Benson advises gently muddling cucumber (you don’t want to crush the seeds) along with gin and lime juice and then straining out the pulp to get the most flavour from it for a cool cocktail.
2 fat slices of peeled cucumber
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 oz Victoria Gin
3 oz Fever-Tree tonic water
Muddle cucumber, lime, syrup and gin together. Shake with ice. Strain into tall glass with fresh ice. Top with tonic and garnish with a lime wedge and a salt-and-pepper cucumber spear.