Iceland is a cold country. Not as cold as the name suggests but still too cold for growing cucumbers, let alone in winter.
Or is it…?
The funny thing is that I took a fieldtrip on Tuesday to visit the country’s largest cucumber farm.
After treading through the snow on the frosty mid-winter morning with a crescent moon glowing in the dark sky, I gazed in amazement at rows after rows of plants with thousands of dark green, ripe and juicy cucumbers hanging from them.
How is this possible?
Iceland is in a unique position for greenhouse farming as the geothermal heat provides vegetable producers with a plentiful supply of relatively inexpensive energy.
Outside a cloud of steam rose into the air—further adding to the mystical atmosphere—from the farm’s private borehole and source of the greenhouse’s heating.
I often buy the cucumbers produced at that greenhouse (as do other consumers; homegrown cucumbers have a 95 percent share on the Icelandic market) but I had never seen the plant on which they grow before.
Suspended from the ceiling, the cucumber liana has large green leaves and yellow flowers. From top to bottom I could observe how the flowers gradually turn into cucumbers, tiny at first, then growing larger down the plant until the ripe product, ready for harvesting, hangs down from the bottom.
It all made sense now.
Years earlier, I had dressed up as a cucumber plant. My homemade costume was light green with dark green leaves and cucumbers—which I stuffed with cotton myself—hanging down from it. I wore a bright green wig and a headband with a yellow flower.
I looked fantastic. I even appeared on television.
The reason for this original outfit was that I had been invited to participate in the historical Wasungen carnival parade.
My roommate from my university years in Germany comes from that town, which for almost 500 years, has lived and breathed for carnival. The parade attracts a number of tourists and is broadcast live on the regional television station MDR.
Every year the town’s carnival council comes up with a special theme, which often relates to current affairs and debates in society (while East Germany existed, they sometimes used the theme to subtly criticize the communist regime, I was told).
All carnival teams design their floats and costumes inspired by this theme. They work on their designs in absolute secrecy and don’t reveal them until the big day.
That year, the theme was something like ‘we’ve had the salad,’ which is an idiom for ‘we’ve had enough.’ And so my friend’s carnival team decided to go as tomatoes and cucumbers, kindly inviting me to join them.
It was a hoot, shaming Iceland’s humble celebration of Ash Wednesday. I had a few drinks too many and shouted ‘ahoi!’—the official carnival cheer—countless times.
Tomorrow, Wasungen celebrates its 478th carnival, and I wish all participants and attendees a marvelous time—which I’m sure they’ll have.
In Iceland, we’ll be celebrating the carnival season next week, starting with Cream Puff Day on Monday, Bursting Day on Tuesday and wrapping it up with Ash Wednesday.
With Lent coming up, it’s the season for big eaters..
As much as I’m looking forward to having sugary and salty treats to excess, by Thursday I might be hungry for something simpler and healthier… like a cucumber salad. Fortunately, the ingredients are easy to come by, even in mid-winter.
Ahoi! to you all.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org