The cucumber is a very old vegetable and native of the Himalayas.
It was cultivated in India more than 3,000 years ago, and has a long history. It was introduced into Egypt (the Egyptians made offerings of it to their gods), and the Hebrews planted it in Galilee. The Romans loved it: Apicius cooked cucumber with honey to temper its bitterness, but also with garum and wine, as in his "patina of cucumber", in order to prevent burping and bloatedness. Emperor Tiberius was crazy about them: his gardeners were able to invent a way of growing them out of the ground, planting them in planter boxes on wheels that they pointed towards the sun.
Cucumbers were widely eaten in France in the 9th century because Charlemagne decided to cultivate them.
The cucumber reached the Americas, carried by Christopher Columbus, and slowly expanded. There are now some hundred different varieties.
Greenhouse cultivation was later devised by Jean de la Quintinie, one of the gardeners of Louis XIV: the Rois Soleil demanded his cucumber soups and salads and in April, when they were not in season!
This example has been followed: cucumbers are available throughout the year, grown under glass. It is a vegetable that no longer has a season.
A good cucumber should be quite firm, with a solid green skin, without blemishes or bruises.
The same goes for pickling cucumbers when they are fresh.
Slicing cucumbers are sold fresh and whole. They are also available frozen, washed, and diced.
Pickling cucumbers are also sold fresh during the season, but they are more often salted and marinated in vinegar with or without aromatics.
Malossols are large cucumbers pickled in brine with different aromatics but without vinegar.
Slicing cucumbers should be stored in a cool place from 10–15ºC. They can be refrigerated or stored in a cool room, but they should be wrapped and kept away from fruit because they give off ethylene.
Cucumbers have scarcely any nutritional value: they are essentially made up of water, with very few vitamins and minerals. But they contain oxalic acid, which is not suitable for people suffering from stones in the urinary tract. They can be difficult to digest and cause burping.
Pickles have the virtue of stimulating the appetite, but this is caused by the acidity of the vinegar in which they are preserved.
- Slicing cucumber
There are different varieties:
. Noa or spiny cucumber: relatively short, bitter, with skin covered in small spines; its flesh is a little granular. This variety is grown in the open air, and its flavor is the strongest. It is found in spring and summer.
. Rollinson’s Telegraph or Dutch cucumber: long (25–30 cm) and very straight. This variety has generally been modified to make it less bitter: the cucurbitacin compound, the molecule behind this flavor, was eliminated during the hybridization process. It has smooth skin and very aqueous flesh. It is grown in greenhouses and found almost all year round. It is also known as the English cucumber in North America.
. Mini cucumber: with a length of 14–20 cm and a diameter of 2 cm, it has smooth skin and a rather insipid taste. Armenian or snake cucumber: long, curved, with a melon-like flavor.
. White cucumber: white skin and flesh.
. West Indian cucumber or burr cucumber: oval, relatively small and spiny, similar to a chestnut in its husk. The Liso Calcutta is a derivation with smooth skin.
. Suhyo long Japanese cucumber: dark green, very long with longitudinal grooves.
. African horned cucumber or melon, with the commercial name of kiwano: oval, spiny, and orange, with very granular green flesh. Imported from New Zealand.
Also available in North America are the Marketmore (some 22 cm in length, sweet flavor), Richmond Green Apple (oval, 12–15 cm, light green), Straight (straight, 20 cm, sweet), etc.
- Pickling cucumbers
There are five main varieties available on the market: Fin de Meaux, Vert Petit de Paris (the most rustic and oldest heirloom variety), Délicatesse, Amélioré de Bourbonne, and Colet F1.
They are harvested in winter.