Mom’s Japanese Cucumbers

My Japanese mother was obsessed with her cucumbers.  She compared her memory of thin, almost seedless, sweet cucumbers with edible skin to the wax-covered, tough, bitter, seed-filled burp-causing cucumbers in America and understood why so many people disliked cucumbers.  She worshipped her cucumbers and rarely found them, except in Japanese grocery stores or restaurants.  Eventually,  after she retired from the restaurant business, she grew a huge garden.   She planted all her favorite vegetables, including Japanese cucumbers, Shishito peppers, and Ichiban eggplant in her Marina, California garden.  She planted many fruit trees, including  her favorite, a persimmon tree.  In fact, her entire back yard was turned into beds for her edible plants.  When she showed me her garden in the mid 1980’s I was impressed, but not really interested, something I now regret.  She moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1990 to be closer to me.  One of the first things she did at her Mary’s Creek house on Devonaire Drive, was to have someone dig huge vegetable garden beds.   She created her own elaborate cucumber trellis from bamboo.  She planted a persimmon tree and she was all set.  She was always taking photos of her garden, her vegetables, her fruit, telling me about what she grew, and painting her beautiful produce. In fact, I have a beautiful painting she did of her favorite vegetables hanging in my kitchen.  She was so sad to leave her house in 2000 when she was 76 years old and needed more assistance due to health problems.  She moved in with me at my house in Lake Country.  I had never grown vegetables then, cared nothing about them since I had been busy raising children, had too many dogs, not enough time, and was just not interested in gardening.  She asked to me at help her grow a few things–her favorite flowers, cosmos and morning glories, and her beloved Japanese cucumbers and eggplants.  The pathetic, small garden patch, a former do-it-yourself pond kit, had to be fenced to keep the German Shepherds and schnauzers out of it, but we had some success.  By 2006, her last year, we had moved to our Azle home.  The house has a bedroom just for her, with an outside entrance to a small patio with a garden bed for her to grow her Japanese vegetables.  She died in May, 2006.  Following her instructions, earlier that spring to find Ichiban eggplants at Russell Feed store in Benbrook, I had already planted them.  Sadly, she did not live to enjoy those beautiful eggplants.  The next spring we had our own large vegetable garden patch.  Knowing absolutely nothing about growing vegetables, I relied on my husband, Steve, for guidance.  He grew up on our 5 acres and had a lot of experience with gardening.  If fact, he had so much experience he detests growing vegetables.  He reluctantly agreed to “help” me, which ended up with him doing most of the work, I’m ashamed to admit.  I did learn a lot about gardening without chemicals, mostly that things get destroyed by bugs and die if you don’t water them.  We did have some wonderful harvests of Japanese cucumbers though, and I finally realized what the fuss was all about.  Those cucumbers!  I could slice them, sprinkle a little sea salt, and eat them all day long.  Now I have 4 raised garden beds filled with vegetables that I am now able to grow, still with some help from Steve, but not as much.  I’ve learned to spray the garden with Neem oil, watch for squash bugs, build a trellis for the cucumbers and more.  Everyday I pick the freshest, most delicious vegetables from my garden.  Additionally, I have a giant fig tree full of figs I’ve picked the past couple years to make fig jam.  Now that I’m retired and able to stroll through my garden in the mornings, occasionally I see a red cardinal, my mom’s favorite bird, and think she’s watching me grow my garden and smiling.  I get it now, Mom.  Sorry I wasn’t able to enjoy this hobby with you, but so grateful you shared your love of it with me.  I wish I could go back in time and visit you, walk through your garden and sit for awhile enjoying a fresh tomato with you, but I can’t.

Mom’s cucumber salad (Japanese sunomono)

If you can’t grow your own Palace King Hybrid Japanese cucumbers or Summer Top hybrid Japanese cucumbers from Kitizuna Seed Company, use Persian or English cucumbers, the skinnier, the better.

3-4 Japanese cucumbers, unpeeled, partially peeled in strips, or peeled

1/4- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon soy sauce

Slice cucumbers with a mandoline, or as thin as you can.  Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 20 minutes.  Squeeze water out of cucumbers.  In a small bowl, mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce together until the sugar dissolves.  Combine with the cucumbers and mix.  Sprinkle with roasted white sesame seeds, if desired.


3 replies
  1. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Julia, this is beautifully written! I agree that she visits you in your garden and is smiling with a happy heart! You’re so inspiring!

  2. Jaye
    Jaye says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a special memory. It’s such an honor and privilege to know you.

  3. Margie
    Margie says:

    Thats a beautiful tribute amd memory.. i love cucumber woth vinegar like that. We always made it with white vinegar but now i know to use rice vinegar so i will make it for her tomorrow and tell her your story!

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