(Cucumis sp.— Family Cucurbitaceae)
There are many varieties of cucumber, but some of the more familiar are the common cucumber (Cucumis sativas or C. vulgaris);
the long cucumber,
classified in the 16th century and includes the English, Armenian, and Chinese types (Cucumis longus); and the very small, warty variety known as gherkins (Cucumis anguria).
There is also a small, round, pale yellow variety known as the lemon cucumber,
but it has not yet made it into any botanical or horticultural manual.
There is also a Russian variety
that is round, brownish, and netted. The plant is a climbing or scrambling annual, and any wild species is now rare in nature.
The cucumber is a fruiting vegetable that comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. They start out green, but as they ripen, turn to varying shades of white, yellowish, orange-yellow, or brownish yellow.
They may reach weights of more than three pounds and grow to lengths of fourteen inches, with a diameter of about four inches.
The skin of the young fruit is covered with prickly warts, which disappear as they ripen.
Varieties worth mentioning that are especially aromatic include the mini cucumber, braising cucumber, the Japanese kuri cucumber, as well as the yellow and white varieties, which are uncommon in the West. These are good eaten raw, stuffed and braised, stir fried, or used in soups; but they are not suited for long cooking times. Generally, cucumbers are best eaten raw, but a good many are used to make pickles of all description.
Although the majority of the species, belonging to the genus Cucumis, come from Africa, the home of this familiar salad vegetable is considered to be northern India, where it has been cultivated for over 3,000 years
The first record of the cucumber came from Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE. The Romans, in the 1st century CE, cultivated them in baskets or raised beds mounted on wheels so they could be moved around as the sun moved. When the days cooled, they were moved back under frames or into cucumber houses glazed with oiled cloth known as “specularia”.
Tiberius was fond of the cucumber and was said to have eaten them every day of the year. The Romans also used cucumbers to treat scorpion bites, bad eyesight, and to scare away mice. Wives, wishing for children, wore them around their waists. They were also carried by the midwives and thrown away when the child was born.
The cucumber did not reach Europe until the Middle Ages, and was first cultivated in greenhouses in 19th century England. Columbus introduced cucumbers to the New World where they are recorded as being planted in Haiti in 1494 and grown by English settlers in Virginia in 1609.
Early varieties were quite bitter and were boiled and served with oil, vinegar, and honey, a practice that has remained unchanged in many homes today. Cucumbers were a common ingredient in soups, stew, and cooked as a vegetable until the 19th century.
Today, cucumbers are grown almost everywhere and are the fourth most cultivated vegetable crop in the world after tomatoes, brassicas, and onions. China is the largest producer, followed by Russia, Japan, Turkey, the US, Romania, and Holland.
Other important producers include Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany. They are grown mainly out-of-doors in warmer climates; but, because they are highly sensitive to frost, cucumber plants are cultivated almost exclusively in greenhouses in cooler regions.
The term “cucumber” is applied to the American pickling and slicing varieties, as well as to Middle Eastern, Oriental, and European greenhouse types.
All are high in carbohydrates, vitamin C, iron, and potassium. Cucumbers can hold up to thirty times its own weight in water, compared to the fiber in wheat bran which can hold only four to six times its own weight.
Because of this, and the fact that it contains so little fiber, cucumbers are not considered a high-fiber food, despite the numerous seeds. Cucumbers do have diuretic properties.
They also contain an enzyme that splits protein and cleanses the intestines. Cucumber juice is beneficial for internal inflammations, including a sore throat or kidney flare-ups.
Organically grown cucumbers have the best flavour and do not need peeling. Their skins contain chlorophyll and silicon, two beneficial nutrients that are lost when the vegetable is peeled.
As for non-organic cucumbers, the peel should be removed as they are often waxed to make them last longer and for protection during travel.
There are three general types of cucumber: greenhouse or indoor, outdoor or ridge, and pickling cukes or gherkins.
Greenhouse varieties include: Crystal Apple, Danimas, Telegraph, Telegraph Improved, and Yamato.
Outdoor varieties include: Bianco Lungo di Parigi, Burpless Tasty Green, Chicago Pickling, Crystal Lemon (the size and tang of a lemon), Long Green Improved, Marketmore, and Boothy Blond (a fat yellow cucumber).
Pickling or gherkins include: Arena, Athene, Gherkin, Hokus, Midget, National Pickling (first introduced in 1929 by the National Pickle Packers Association in Britain), and Vert de Massy Cornichon.
Pickling cucumber, cornichon, gherkin (Cucumis sativus)
The pickling cucumber is the best known variety used for dill pickles. They are cultivated almost exclusively outdoors and harvested when they are two to eight inches long.
The peak season is fall when they have reached a length of between three and four inches. A basic distinction drawn between the types are those with nearly smooth skins and those with warty or prickly ones.
Pickling cucumbers or gherkins are usually named solely according to their size or the way in which they are prepared. Cornichons are those less than two inches in length and not fully developed. They are generally pickled in vinegar.
The characteristic taste of the larger pickled ones comes mainly from lactic fermentation. Commercial gherkins are usually sterilized slices, cubes, or strips of cucumber pickled with vinegar and spices.
All cucumbers are sensitive to the cold and should not be stored in the refrigerator. The ethylene gas given off by tomatoes and other fruit also turns them yellow, so they should be stored separately.
Armenian cucumber, snake/serpent melon (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus – Family Cucurbitaceae)
The Armenian cucumber is a different species from the other cucumbers and grouped botanically with melons. However, it looks and acts more like a cucumber. It was introduced from Armenia into Italy in the 1400s, along with the true melon or canteloupe.
American gardeners tend to grow it more as an ornamental rather than food. The almost nonexistent, matte skin has an indescribable flavour like that of no other cucumber. The flesh is mild, with a light citric finish and a distinct sweetness.
Kerela, bitter cucumber, bitter gourd, balsam pear, Momordica (Momordica charantia – Family Cucurbitaceae)
Karela is an annual climber grown for its edible fruits and leaves, which are good sources of iron, vitamin C, and minerals. It is a strange-looking fruit, with skin like that of a crocodile. The blistered skin is extremely warty and the flesh very bitter, but it has been used as food throughout the tropics for centuries.
are strongly vanilla-scented. When ripe, the fruit splits at the tip into three sections, exposing brown, white, or crimson seeds surrounded by blood-red pulp. The fruits are better eaten when young when do not need to be salted, like the older fruits, to make them palatable; but the seeds need to be removed, too. After washing off the salt, karela is diced and added to curries and other dishes. Mature fruits can be parboiled before adding to other dishes. Young shoots and leaves are cooked like spinach.
Korila, wild cucumber (Cyclanthera pedata – Family Cucurbitaceae)
The wild cucumber is thought to have originated in Mexico, but may also have come from the Caribbean. Today, it is still cultivated in both areas, as well as in Peru and parts of Southeast Asia.
The two- to three-inchlong fruits are thickly spindle-shaped, tapering to a point, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Pepino hueco is another name use to describe their meager flesh content.