Introduction and description
The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae. It is a creeping vine that bears cucumiform fruits that are used as vegetables. There are three main varieties of cucumber: slicing, pickling, and seedless.
The cucumber originated in India, where a great many varieties have been observed. It has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years, and was probably introduced to other parts of Europe by the Greeks or Romans. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
The cucumber now grows on most continents. In 2014, world production of cucumbers and gherkins was 75 million tonnes, led by China with 76% of the total, followed by Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Ukraine.
The cucumber is a creeping vine that roots in the ground and grows up trellises or other supporting frames, wrapping around supports with thin, spiraling tendrils. The plant will sprawl along the ground if it does not have supports. The vine has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruits. The fruit of typical cultivars of cucumber is roughly cylindrical and elongated with tapered ends. The apple cucumber is an exception, this is round and often a yellow or orange colour.
Traditional cultivars produce male blossoms first, then female, in about equivalent numbers. A few farmed agricultural cultivars of cucumber in the USA, are ‘parthenocarpic’, the blossoms creating seedless fruit without pollination. Given that it is the seeds that provide most of the nutrition, one is effectively eating slightly flavoured water with these and they are nutritionally worthless.
You can grow cucumbers in the ground, pots or in growing bags.
· Growing in the greenhouse - Start cucumbers off by sowing seeds from mid-February to mid-March if you have a heated greenhouse or similar environment, or in April if you have an unheated greenhouse. Sow seeds on their side, 1cm (½in) deep in pots.
· Sowing outdoors - Sow seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep indoors in late April. Alternatively, sow directly outside in late May or early June and cover the soil above the seeds with fleece, a cloche or glass jar. This method can work well in southern regions and in warm summers.
· Indoors - Transfer young plants to 25cm (10in) pots of good potting compost in late March (heated greenhouse), late May (unheated greenhouse). Keep the compost evenly moist – little and often is the best way. You can also use growing-bags but plants will need to be carefully watered and looked after. Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. Pinch out the growing point when it reaches the roof. Pinch out the tips of sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower (recognisable by tiny fruits behind flower). Pinch out the tips of flowerless sideshoots once they reach 60cm (2ft) long. Keep the humidity high by watering the floor and, once planted out, feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.
· Outdoors - Either sow seeds or plant out young plants in early June, ideally under fleece or cloches. Any fertile garden soil in full sun is satisfactory. Dig in up to two bucketfuls of rotted organic matter, such as garden compost, and rake in 100g per square metre (3½oz per square yard) of general purpose fertiliser. Pinch out the growing tip when the plants have developed seven leaves. The developing sideshoots can be left to trail over the ground or trained up stout netting. Pinch out the tips of flowerless sideshoots after seven leaves. Keep the soil constantly moist by watering around the plants – not over them.
Depending on the variety of cucumber, you may or may not remove the male flower.
You do NOT remove the female flower. Female flowers are the ones with a mini cucumber behind them.
Many cucumbers nowadays are all female varieties. You can probably tell from the price of the F1 seed, for which you have to take out a second mortgage! It is only the ridge types and outdoor ones which would be traditional types with male and female flowers, and where bitterness is introduced if they get pollinated (but not always).
Inadequate pollination - Most cucumber cultivars are seeded and require pollination by honey bees, bumble bees and other bees. Commercial farms may transport thousands of hives of honey bees annually to cucumber fields just before bloom for this purpose. Pollen from a different plant is required to form seeds and fruit [so one plant won’t work]. In adequate pollination results in fruit abortion and misshapen fruit. Partially pollinated flowers may develop fruit that are green and develop normally near the stem end, but are pale yellow and withered at the blossom end.
· Whitefly: Use biological control or sticky traps in the greenhouse.
· Cucumber mosaic virus: Plants and leaves are stunted and deformed, and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterning. Flowering is reduced or non-existent, while any fruit that do appear are small, pitted, hard and inedible. Remedy: The disease is spread from plant to plant by sap-sucking aphids, so take any necessary measures to control them. Infected plants should be destroyed – wash your hands after touching infected material to avoid contaminating healthy plants.
· Powdery Mildew: Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel. Remedy: Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations.
Cucumbers suffer from the same problem as courgette in that under stress conditions they can produce a bitter chemical intended to ward off any predators attempting to eat the fruit. This is done in an attempt to at least produce some seed. But it can make people ill, sometimes very ill.
Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 22 August 1663: “this day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which the other day I heard of another, I think.”
Furthermore, because of the high water content of cucumbers and presence of sugars, many bacteria find cucumber dishes to be very attractive and they go forth to multiply with great rapidity, especially in warm conditions. As such the advice is not to eat cucumber dishes unless they have been freshly prepared in sanitary conditions.
Finally there is also a problem with cucumbers irrigated with water that is recycled or none too clean, or land that has been contaminated by flood waters or similar, as the plants readily take up water, pathogens, toxins and everything else, somewhat like a sponge! They have been used for phytoremediation.
Mrs Grieve is somewhat dismissive of cucumber “The dietary value of Cucumber is negligible, there being upwards of 96 per cent water in its composition.” And indeed she is largely right. In a 100-gram serving, raw cucumber (with peel) is 95% water, provides 67 kilojoules (16 kilocalories) and supplies low content of essential nutrients, as it is notable only for vitamin K at 16% of the Daily Value (table). The USDA nutrients table is as follows.
Cucumber, with peel, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy - 65 kJ (16 kcal)
Carbohydrates - 3.63 g
Sugars - 1.67
Dietary fibre - 0.5 g
Fat - 0.11 g
Protein - 0.65 g
Thiamine (B1) - 0.027 mg
Riboflavin (B2) - 0.033 mg
Niacin (B3) - 0.098 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5) - 0.259 mg
Vitamin B6 - 0.04 mg
Folate (B9) - 7 μg
Vitamin C - 2.8 mg
Vitamin K - 16.4 μg
Calcium - 16 mg
Iron - 0.28 mg
Magnesium - 13 mg
Manganese - 0.079 mg
Phosphorus - 24 mg
Potassium - 147 mg
Sodium - 2 mg
Zinc - 0.2 mg
Medicinally the fruit of the cucumber has little activity, but the seeds have been used in much the same way as those of pumpkinseeds –for intestinal complaints and to remove tape worms. Most of the activity you see in the observations are from the seed not the fruit.
But cucumber comes into its own with skin complaints. It helps with sunburn, is an anti-inflammatory and is considerably soothing to irritated skin. Mrs Grieve [see observation] has provided a number of recipes which explain how to make various salves and ointments or soothing essences for badly inflamed skin.
The Romans are reported to have used cucumbers to treat scorpion bites and bad eyesight, and there is the possibility that in both cases it is the soothing nature of the cucumber juice on the skin that was being used. Sliced cucumber placed on the eyelids, does relieve tired eyes.
Wikipedia tells us that “Wives wishing for children wore them around their waists” …ahem, this may have been more in line of a joke, cucumbers were a constant subject of much hilarity when I was a nipper.
Reasons why women prefer cucumbers to Men
The average cucumber is at least several inches long
Cucumbers stay hard for a week
Cucumbers won't tell you size doesn't count
Cucumbers don't get too excited
Cucumbers never suffer from performance anxiety
Cucumbers are easy to pick up
You can fondle a cucumber in a supermarket and you know how firm it is before you take it home
English cucumbers are smooth skinned and Ridge cucumbers have a prickly skin that should be peeled. The ridge cucumbers, however, are good pickled and in this case the skins can be left on. Pickling is with brine, sugar, vinegar, and spices
Gherkins, also called cornichons, baby dills, or baby pickles, are simply small, whole, unsliced cucumbers, typically those 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 5 inches (13 cm) in length, often with bumpy skin, and pickled in variable combinations of brine, vinegar, spices, and sugar. The word gherkin derived in the mid-17th century from early modern Dutch, gurken or augurken meaning "small pickled cucumber"!
Burpless cucumbers have a thinner skin than other varieties of cucumber are nearly seedless, and have a delicate skin. These parthenocarpic cucumbers [see above] are often found in grocery markets, shrink-wrapped in plastic.
The variety known as Schälgurken , eaten in Germany, have thick skins and can be braised or fried, often with minced meat or dill.
Dosakai is a yellow cucumber available in parts of India. These fruits are generally spherical in shape. It is commonly cooked as curry, added in sambar or soup, daal and also in making dosa-aavakaaya (Indian pickle) and chutney.
Armenian cucumbers (also known as yard long cucumbers) are fruits produced by the plant Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. This is not the same species as the common cucumber (Cucumis sativus) although it is closely related. Armenian cucumbers have very long, ribbed fruit with a thin skin that does not require peeling, but are actually an immature melon. This is the variety sold in Middle Eastern markets as "pickled wild cucumber".
Creamy cucumber with gravadlax
|½ large cucumber
1 small fennel bulb
2 tbsp double cream
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
small bunch dill, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
300g gravadlax , about 8 nice slices
brown bread and butter, to serve
Peel alternate strips of skin off the cucumber and halve lengthways. Scoop away the seeds with a teaspoon, slice the cucumber on an angle, then place in a colander or sieve set above a bowl. Remove the outer layer of fennel and quarter the bulb. Cut away the core, then slice the fennel as finely as possible. Tip the fennel in with the cucumber, season generously with salt, then leave to macerate for 10 mins.
When the vegetables have been salted, taste a piece of cucumber. If it’s too salty, give them a rinse. But if it’s fine, then just squeeze them gently. In a separate bowl, stir together the cream, vinegar, mustard and dill, and season with a grind of black pepper. Toss the vegetables into the creamy dressing and serve with a few slices of gravadlax, a sprinkling of dill and some buttered brown bread.
Crunchy cucumber salad
1 small shallot
2 tsp lime juice
Thinly slice the shallot and place half in a bowl. The remainder can be fried and used as a garnish, if you like (see below). Add the mushrooms, spring onions and chilli to the bowl, then cover and leave in the fridge until ready to serve.
Just before serving, slice the cucumber into long, thin strips (try using a vegetable peeler to get really thin slices). Toss together with the remaining salad ingredients. Mix together all the dressing ingredients, leave to one side for 5 mins to let the sugar dissolve, then toss half the dressing through the salad. Place in a serving dish and top with the remaining dressing and fried shallots, if you like.
Cod with cucumber, avocado & mango salsa salad
|2 x 125g skinless cod fillets
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 small mango, peeled, stoned and chopped (or 2 peaches, stoned and chopped)
1 small avocado , stoned, peeled and sliced
¼ cucumber, chopped
160g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
handful chopped coriander
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Put the fish in a shallow ovenproof dish and pour over half the lime juice, with a little of the zest, then grind over some black pepper. Bake for 8 mins or until the fish flakes easily but is still moist.
Meanwhile, put the rest of the ingredients, plus the remaining lime juice and zest, in a bowl and combine well. Spoon onto plates and top with the cod, spooning over any juices in the dish
Chunky cucumber raita
500g Greek yogurt
|Tip the yogurt into a food processor with the mint, coriander and ½ tsp salt, then blitz until smooth. Halve the cucumber lengthways and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Discard the seeds, then thinly slice. Stir into the herby yogurt just before serving.
Honey Grilled Pork Banh Mi with Spiralized Pickled Vegetables
For the Spiralized Pickled Vegetables:
2 cups rice wine vinegar
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
For the Pork:
For the Assembly:
Make the Spiralized Pickled Vegetables: In medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, water, honey and salt. Place carrots, cucumbers and daikon each in their own quart-sized mason jar or other sealed container. Divide vinegar mixture between jars. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. Before using, remove vegetables from pickling liquid and gently pat dry with paper towel.
Make the Sweet Chili Mayonnaise: In small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, chili sauce, honey and lime juice. If desired, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.
For the Quick Pickles:
1 large English cucumber
8 ounces soft cream cheese
1 packet of Bagels (6 count)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
For the Quick Pickles: Boil the water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar; then add the vinegar and salt. Slice the cucumber very thin and stir the slices into the pickling liquid. Set aside for as long as possible.
For the Herbed Cream Cheese: Place the cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Smash and stir until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
For the bagels: Halve the Bagels lay them cut-side-up on baking sheets. Toast in the oven for 5-8 minutes.
Place the bagel halves on plates. Spread the top of each bagel with herbed cream cheese. Drain the pickles. Then layer each bagel with thinly sliced smoked trout and quick pickles. Garnish with extra dill and cracked pepper if desired.
Val's Vegetarian Cucumber and Pasta salad
· 1 cup cooked spiral pasta
· 1 cup chopped tomatoes
· 1 clove chopped garlic
· 1 cup cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
· 1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
· 1 6 ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
· 2 tbsp canned black olives, chopped
· 1 15.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
· 1 lemon, juiced
· 3 tbsp olive oil
· 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
· salt and pepper, to taste
Cucumber, pea & lettuce soup
1 tsp oil
small bunch spring onions, chopped
1 cucumber, roughly chopped
1 large lettuce, roughly chopped
225g frozen peas
4 tsp vegetable bouillon
I large pot creamy yogurt
Boil 1.4 litres water in a kettle. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and cook the spring onions for 5 mins, stirring frequently, or until softened. Add the cucumber, lettuce and peas, then pour in the boiled water. Stir in the bouillon, cover and simmer for 10 mins or until the vegetables are soft but still bright green.
Blitz the mixture with a hand blender until smooth.
Courgette fritters with dill & cucumber sauce
|For the fritters
vegetable oil, for greasing
350g courgettes, grated
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp black onion seeds
25g pumpkin seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
50g goat’s cheese
For the sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
50ml raw apple cider vinegar (see tip)
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp rapeseed oil or vegetable oil
small pack dill, chopped
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
60g bag baby kale
1 lemon, cut into wedges
First make the sauce. Whisk together the mustard, vinegar and lemon juice, then slowly add the oil while continuing to whisk.
Stir in the dill and cucumber, and chill until using.
Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5 and brush a large baking tray with oil.
For the fritters, gather the courgette in a clean tea towel and squeeze it to get rid of any excess moisture. Tip the courgette into a large bowl and mix together with the egg, buckwheat flour, onion seeds, pumpkin seeds and garlic. Season well, then dollop heaped spoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared tray to create 6 round fritters. Press a piece of goat’s cheese into the middle of each one.
Bake for 20-25 mins or until firm and golden on the top. Leave to cool on the tray before transferring to a wire rack. Serve cold or just warm, with the dill sauce, baby kale and lemon wedges on the side.
Vietnamese Curry Chicken and Rice Noodle Salad Bowl
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into rings
1½ cups Coconutmilk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 to 8 ounce package rice noodles
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced thinly or shredded
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup peanuts
For the Nuac Cham Dipping Sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup fish sauce
3-4 limes, juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated carrot
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Dust the chicken pieces with 1 tablespoon of curry powder and toss to coat and set aside. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant then add the onion. Cook until the onions are soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan, and add the remaining oil. Brown the chicken pieces for about 5-7 minutes or until cooked on all sides.
Mix the coconut milk, remaining 2 tablespoons of curry powder and brown sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Add to the pan with the chicken with the onions and stir to coat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by half or until it coats the chicken pieces.
While the chicken is cooking, place the rice noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until they've softened. Drain and set aside.
To assemble the salad bowls, add a handful of noodles to the bowl and top with a scoop of curry chicken and onions. Dress with the sliced vegetables, fresh herbs and peanuts. Drizzle with the Nuac Cham dipping sauce and serve.
For the Nuac Cham Dipping Sauce
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Serve at room temperature.
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