Though best known for their spiny rind, burr gherkins, a West African cucumber-like veggie, have been a gardener's secret for a number of reasons. Probably the most obvious reason: Burr gherkins grow like crazy. Even in less-than-hospitable environments (like, say, a desert), growers are impressed and a little overwhelmed by their yield from one plant. These little cukes are an ideal step into heirloom gardening because they're easy to maintain since they don't have the same pest issues as cucumbers. If you're just looking for a couple to try out before you make the plunge into plant ownership, McClendon's has plenty of organic burr gherkins for the picking.
Price: $3 per pound
Vendor: McClendon's Select Farm
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What Else to Grab: Medjool Dates ($10/lb.)
The versatile burr gherkin is as great in the kitchen as it is in the garden. Burr gherkins brine well, making for unique-looking pickles. Also, unlike some kinds of gherkins, these don't have to be pickled to enjoy -- simply throw them in raw anyplace you'd use a normal cucumber. Plus, looking how they do, with the light green coloring and the spiky skin, they'll add visual impact in any dish. Be aware that burr gherkins do have a mild lemony flavor, much like our old friend the lemon cucumber. Finally, you can also cook burr gherkins sort of like zucchini, since they're a bit more firm in texture than typical cucumbers.