Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
Food & Nutrition
The word from most gardeners is that this is a banner year for cucumbers. I enjoy them fresh as well as pickled. That is a little surprising as I had the opportunity of hand-picking three acres of cucumbers and it was not fun.
When I was in college, I stayed with a family in Canada and the three daughters grew cucumbers to sell for their school clothes. I don’t mind hard work, but it had rained and the field was very muddy. It was hard to walk let alone squat or bend over and pick the cucumbers, but they had to be picked. The temperature had warmed up; the cucumbers were growing and the value was in the smaller ones. So we picked and filled the bushel baskets and carried them to the truck. We then traveled to the grading station and got in line with the semi, but that is another column.
The cucumber is a gourd of the same family as pumpkin, zucchini and other squash. There are basically two types of cucumber: pickling varieties and slicing varieties. Pickling varieties, such as the gherkin, the American dill and the cornichon (small French pickle), are relatively small. The gherkin and the cornichon are rarely more than 2 inches long. The American dill is rarely more than 4 inches. All of the varieties have dark green skin with knobby warts or spines.
Slicing cucumbers may be either outdoor varieties with seeds, or greenhouse varieties, such as the long thin-skinned English cucumbers, which has few seeds. Outdoor varieties have a smooth, dark green skin and are usually 8 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, tapering at each end. The skin is often waxed to prolong shelf life. Greenhouse varieties, such as the English cucumber, are about 12 to 15 inches long.
In the last several years other commercial slicing cucumbers have become popular such as the round pale yellow lemon cucumber, which has a very mild flavor and the Japanese cucumber, a narrow thin cucumber with few seeds.
Cucumbers have a crisp texture, a moist, cool flesh and a mild flavor. Pickling cucumbers are valued for their crisp, firm texture and slicing varieties for their refreshing juicy flavor. Slicing cucumbers are available all year, but peak season is the summer months. Most pickling cucumbers are sold only during the summer months. Most of the greenhouse varieties are wrapped in plastic to prevent dehydration.
When selecting cucumbers, choose those that are firm, without soft spots. With the exception of the lemon cucumber, they should have a solid green color without signs of yellowing or puffiness. When it comes to storage, cucumbers will keep longest if stored in the refrigerator.
When it comes to preparing, think about slicing cucumbers and adding crunchy texture and cool flavor to salads and sandwiches. Another interesting way to use them is to steam or sauté or add at the end of stir-fried vegetables. Cucumbers, hot or cold, have a particular affinity for fish and are often used to garnish salmon dishes. In Japan, cooks use cucumbers in sushi and cold salads, and in England, tea would not be tea without cucumber sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches are wonderful with a smoked salmon spread on them.
Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 cucumbers, sliced
1 small red onion, diced
Whisk vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir in the cucumbers and onions to coat with the dressing. Cover and chill for two hours. Another way to enjoy this: Add a half cup of sour cream or plain yogurt and a tablespoon of dried dill to the dressing. This dressing is also good with carrots, beets, cabbage and zucchini.
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is Elkhart County extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Contact her at 574-533-0554 or firstname.lastname@example.org.