The Round Cucumber of Puglia

When researching my book about Italian food, I discovered the round melon cucumber of Puglia. It was described as a cross between a melon and a cucumber.

I was eager to try it and I thought I would have to wait till I could travel to Puglia. But, one day at the Campo de Fiori market, I saw it. The cucumber tastes like a mild cucumber (even milder) but has the shape of a melon. The rind is slightly leathery and I actually liked the way it has a pleasant chewiness.

Imagine if these were grown without seeds? They would be perfect for sandwiches. Never mind that, after my terrible encounter with a normal Italian cucumber back in November, I was just happy that this one didn’t bite my tongue off with bitterness. I had a Greek salad the other day, and the cucumber was equally bitter.

I didn’t expect the cucumbers to be bitter in Italy. But, then again, Romans like bitter greens like chicory so why not bitter cucumber (not to be confused with bitter gourd).

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It Would Be Bizarre to Say No to Food

Two pieces of moose nose, one sans hair.
Two pieces of moose nose, one sans hair.

Once in a while, I find myself in a situation both familiar and exotic. I went to visit family up in Alaska, out in the bush, on the mighty Yukon, and found myself invited to a “potlatch” dinner. The village I visited is primarily inhabited by one tribe of native Americans and the food was truly Alaskan. I didn’t expect to ever be in a “Bizarre Foods” episode but I guess that’s what it was to my Facebook audience.

Fish ice cream.
Fish ice cream.

Sitting at the dinner, being served by the youths, it was a heartwarming study in respect. There was way more than enough food but only the elders got the choice pieces of seal blubber, moose nose, and jarred silvers (pickled “silver” salmon). Everyone got ham slices the size of lumber, pasta salads in infinite variety, fish chowder, moose stew, moose soup, spaghetti, jerky, pudding with marshmallows, slaw, goose, and more pasta salad. It was considered rude to refuse any food so every place setting was outfitted with ziplock bags so that everyone would have food for the taking.

I was raised to “try everything once” and to be polite… the moose nose was very sticky and chewy a bit like pig ear (if you know what that tastes like). The fish ice cream was interesting and I could see how that would be the best treat on a cold winter day as it provides fat, creamy tartness. I imagine that when cold, it’s even better. The three flavors I tried were cranberry, salmon berry (I guess from the pink color), and “black” berry which is a small pearl-like berry, smaller than a blueberry and not of much flavor. The cranberry was the best because of the tartness. The ice cream is only slightly sweet and I totally get why it’s called ice cream.

Now, don’t call me Andrew.