If the forgotten cucumber in your refrigerator's vegetable drawer has turned into a pool of mushy liquid, there's no doubt that it's gone bad. The intermediate stages between freshness and spoilage are slightly more difficult to spot. Expect a fresh, whole cucumber to last from 7 to 10 days once you bring it home from the grocery store, and begin to pay attention to its condition after about 6 days. Waxed cucumbers stay fresh longer than those that are unwaxed.
To extend its shelf life, buy the firmest cucumber you can find, with no soft or shriveled spots anywhere on the skin, and wrap it tightly in plastic before putting it in the refrigerator. Wait until just before using to wash the cuke.
If you see only slight signs of spoilage, the cucumber is still safe to eat as long as you cut out the spoiled areas. Look for these signals:
- Soft spots that you can press into with your finger. Typically the ends of the cucumber turn soft before other areas, but you may also find a spot here and there in the middle of the cuke.
- The entire cucumber is no longer crisp and firm, allowing you to bend it back and forth. Use the cuke at this point for dishes that don't require the crisp texture of the vegetable.
- One or more black spots on the skin indicate that mold is starting to form.
- The entire skin of the cucumber feels slimy. In this case, throw away the entire cucumber, because the spoilage that you see on the outside reflects even more spoilage inside the vegetable.
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Leftover, cut cucumbers stay fresh in the refrigerator for only 1 to 2 days, turning soft and mushy quickly.
If your cucumber has a few soft spots and is no longer crisp, repurpose it from salads and salsa into blended dishes:
- Make a cucumber smoothie by pureeing the cucumber in your blender or food processor with plain yogurt and a few sprigs of fresh mint.
- Create a refreshing, summer drink with pureed cucumber, a teaspoon of lime juice and sparkling water.
- Make cucumber granita by freezing pureed cucumber, plain or with yogurt and a little honey, in a shallow pan in your freezer. Scrape the mixture every 30 minutes with a fork to create icy granules until it is set in about 3 hours.
Follow the lead of Tim Love, a chef writing for the Food and Wine website, and make cucumber-lime frozen pops with pureed cucumber, lime juice, sugar, fresh mint and powdered gelatin. Convert the pops into treats for adults by adding a generous splash of gin.