B's Cucumber Pages

Eating Cucumbers

From Cooking A to Z edited by Jane Horn. Santa Rosa: The Cole Group, 1992.

The cucumber is a gourd of the same family as pumpkin, zucchini, and other squashes. There are basically two types of cucumbers: 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 rarely more than 4 inches. All of the varieties have dark green skin with knobby warts or spines.

Slicing cucumbers may be either outdoors varieties with seeds or greenhouse varieties, such as the long, thin-skinned English cucumber, which has few seeds. Outdoor varieties have a smooth, dark green skin and are usually about 8 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. The skin is often waxed to prolong shelf life. greenhouse varieties, such as the English cucumber, are about 12 to 15 inches long.

Other commercially available slicing cucumbers include the round, pale lemon cucumber, which has a very mild flavor, and the Japanese cucumber, a narrow, thin-skinned variety with few seeds.

Cucumbers have a crisp texture, a moist, cool flesh, and a mild flavor. Pickling cucumbers are appreciated for their crisp, firm texture; slicing varieties for their refreshing, juicy flavor.

Use: Pickling cucumbers are packed in brine for use as a relish. Slicing cucumbers add crunchy texture and cool flavor to salads and sandwiches; they may also be steamed or sauteed and eaten as a vegetable. 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 wouldn't be tea without cucumber sandwiches.

Slicing cucumbers are available all year but peak season is in the summer months. Most pickling cucumbers are sold only during the summer months. Many of the greenhouse varieties are wrapped in plastic to prevent dehydration.

Choose firm cucumbers without soft spots. With the exception of lemon cucumbers, they should have a solid green color without signs of yellowing or puffiness.

Keep cucumbers in refrigerator crisper for up to one week.

Pickling cucumbers should be scrubbed to remove loose spines. Greenhouse slicing cucumbers do not need to be peeledor seeded. Outdoor varieties may be peeled and seeded, or not, as desired. Waxed cucumbers, however, should be peeled. To seed a cucumber, slice it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a small spoon.

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Last Modified: August 28, 1997