I'm back in San Francisco and have a new late-summer obsession: the lemon cucumber. In the current climate of multiculturalism and fusion, it may seem a little trendy to be enamored of a piece of produce that boasts the vaguely exotic yet familiar allure of the hybrid, the indeterminate, the mestizo, but this fruit masquerading as a vegetable disguised as a fruit (a kind of double drag, F to V to F) has been lurking about farmers markets since 1894. I found these little guys at the Noe Valley Farmers market and also saw them at the Ferry Building. My friend Zoe first suggested them to me after she saw them in Israel this summer.
Unlike the pluot or aprium, which are true cross-bred composites of separate fruits, this apple-cheeked salad stuffer is indeed a cucumber that merely resembles a brightly sour lemon and is actually slightly sweeter than other cucumbers. Like its relatives, the gourd and the squash, the cucumber is classified as a fruit for having enclosed seeds and developing from a flower but is associated with vegetables for its more neutral flavor and use in savory dishes (thanks Wikipedia!).
A question that has come up often since we started this blog is, "What exactly is a vegetable?" and I was reluctant to investigate the answer for fear that it would limit the specimens I could honestly post on the site without feeling self-indulgent. But the doors have been thrown wide open thanks again to my favorite unofficial Wiki-research site (our backroom team of Weird Vegetable fact-checkers are falling off their swivel chairs in horror), which informs us that "the term 'vegetable' generally means the edible parts of plants" and that the "definition of the word is traditional rather than scientific," based more on cultural associations, culinary uses, and food retailing, making its usage "somewhat arbitrary and subjective." So there. Anything edible from a plant goes. Viva la Vegetable!