Extended Season Cucumbers and Tomatoes from Don Perkins Greenhouses
Roland MacIntosh of Paw Paw Plantation in Powell County, Kentucky, philosopher-dean of the Lexington Farmers Market, brings astonishingly good, locally grown cucumbers and tomatoes to the Market well before we can pick our own in our gardens. Even in Kentucky, with our already generous growing season, we can get excited about an extra two months of cucumbers and tomatoes that (a) taste fabulous, (b) come from the region, and (3) benefit from an innovative energy supply, especially when the vegetables offer superior taste and texture at reasonable prices.
It's interesting to learn that these beautiful vegetables can be a bit of a hard sell at the Lexington Farmers Market -- until first bite.
The cucumbers from Don Perkins Greenhouses in Lee County, Kentucky, are dark English green -- appropriately -- and long, lean, semi-ribbed, and heavy. They look just about perfect. And they are.
Many of us Kentuckians don't know a lot about English (burpless, sweet, seedless, thin-skinned) cucumbers. We may not know that these cucumbers, which do not need either peeling or seeding, make a salad/pickle/relish in less than two minutes:
Wash. Chop. Salt. Add a dash of cider vinegar. Eat.
Just speaking for myself, it's possible to become fanatic about eating at least one English cucumber every day. The sweet, mild taste is fine, but the real wonder is textural. These cucumbers have none of those gristly, slimy seeds that make large garden cucumbers unbearable. In fact, Don Perkins's cucumbers, via Roland, have a fine, tender texture that is better than mass-produced English cucumbers, which can feel a bit too slick. The Don Perkins cuke is superb.
With the Don Perkins tomatoes, the barriers for buying are different. Shoppers at the Lexington Farmers Market know to avoid perfect, mid-sized, glowing red tomatoes -- "greenhouse" tomatoes. The Don Perkins tomatoes, which do come from greenhouses, are so perfect, mid-sized, and glowing red that one could reasonably guess the tomatoes will be all mush and no taste. Savvy shoppers may take a look and avoid them - but in this case, they miss extraordinary flavor and sleek, mush-free ripeness.
I speak from experience. I'm part of the self-righteous "only in season" group where tomatoes are concerned, so I passed these red beauties without a thought for weeks. I missed out on so much happiness! My late enlightenment came when I broke my "in season" rule and bought a single red tomato to make a party guacamole. The look and smell of the tomato as I sliced it into the avocados made me take a bite, which led directly to slurping down half the tomato just like that, shortchanging the guac.
These Don Perkins Greenhouse tomatoes, Roland says, are chosen first for flavor, and second for their ability to thrive in a hydroponic growing medium of vermiculite, water, and nutrients, in greenhouses. Unlike conventional greenhouse tomatoes, the Don Perkins fruits ripen on the vine and sell regionally, so they are likely to be eaten within days of picking.
Don Perkins owns 10 greenhouses, heated by natural gas from nearby oil wells. Don owns the gas rights to the wells. So while the greenhouse heat source is not renewable, it surely is locally sourced and plentiful, which helps control production costs. Roland says regional Walmarts, restaurants, and other big retailers offer Don Perkins tomatoes, marked with little blue identifying stickers. Good Foods Coop, too, sells Don Perkins cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces at times.
Tomatoes and cucumbers are now in season all over Kentucky. Hallelujah! I appreciate the people who work hard so we can have fine, locally grown, reasonably raised tomatoes and cucumbers out of season, too, and look forward to other growers developing innovative ways to help us eat locally year-round.