Cucumbers

About

Even though long, dark green, smooth-skinned garden cucumbers are familiar vegetables in the produce sections of most groceries, cucumbers actually come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes and textures. You'll find white, yellow, and even orange-colored cucumbers, and they may be short, slightly oval, or even round in shape. Their skins can be smooth and thin, or thick and rough. In a technical sense, cucumbers are actually fruits, not vegetables. (Fruits are parts of flowering plants that come from the ovary.) But we've become accustomed to thinking and referring to cucumbers as vegetables.

All cucumbers belong to the botanical plant family called Curcubitaceae. This broad family of plants includes melons and squashes. The cucumbers we're most familiar with in the grocery store belong to the specific genus/species group, Cucumis sativus.

While there are literally hundreds of different varieties of Cucumis sativus, virtually all can be divided into two basic types: slicing and pickling.  Slicing cucumbers are usually larger and have thicker skins, while pickling cucumbers are usually smaller and have thinner skins.

History

Cucumber plants naturally thrive in both temperate and tropical environments, and generally require temperatures between 60-90°F/15-33°C. For this reason, they are native to many regions of the world. In evolutionary terms, the first cucumbers were likely to have originated in Western Asia (and perhaps more specifically in India) or parts of the Middle East. Cucumbers are mentioned in the legend of Gilgamesh—a Uruk king who lived around 2500 BC in what is now Iraq and Kuwait. It was approximately 3,300 years later when cucumber cultivation spread to parts of Europe, including France. And it was not until the time of the European colonists that cucumbers finally appeared in North America in the 1500's.

To Store

Cucumbers should be stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days. If you do not use the entire cucumber during one meal, place it in a tightly sealed container so that it does not become dried out. For maximum quality, cucumber should be used within one or two days. Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long as this will cause them to wilt and become limp.

 

Recipes

Quick and Easy Pickles

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 1/2 ounces sea salt (about 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon)

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 8 cups bottled water

  • 1 1/2 pounds kirby cucumbers, thoroughly washed and dried

  • Few sprigs fresh dill, washed and dried

DIRECTIONS:

Pickling vegetables refers to the simple process of submerging them in a salt and water solution (brine) or an acidic ingredient like vinegar. In very simple terms, the good bacteria that exists naturally on vegetables consumes the starches/sugars in the vegetable and secretes acids (namely lactic acid) that prevent spoilage. More importantly, the process adds flavor to vegetables, gives them brightness and acidity and, in some cases, increases their vitamin content! 

Mix the sea salt, apple cider vinegar, and water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the brine from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Arrange the cucumbers upright in a container large enough to hold the brine. Place the dill sprigs in amongst the cucumbers in the jars. The cucumbers should be fitted tightly and should come within 1/2-inch of the top of the container.

Fill the container with the brine to the top and tap on a flat surface to remove any possible air bubbles.

Homemade Pickles

Makes 1 quart sized jar

Ingredients:

  • cucumbers
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 sprigs of fresh dill (the flowered heads of the dill taste the best for these pickles, so use them if you can get them)
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

optional ingredients:

handful of fresh grape, raspberry, oak, blackberry or cherry leaves (these types of leaves supply tannins, which help keep the pickles crispy and crunchy)

onion or a clean rock piece to weigh the cucumbers down and keep them submerged in the brine

DIRECTIONS:

Decide what size pickles you would like and cut your cucumbers into your desired size. Keep in mind that sliced cucumbers will ferment faster than whole cucumbers. Pack your cucumber slices into your jar. Pack them tight! Add the spices on top. Mix the water and sea salt together until the salt is dissolved. Pour your water/salt over the pickles. Leave about an inch of space between the water and the top of the jar. All the cucumbers mustbe submerged in the water. If you are having trouble getting them totally submerged, you may need to add a “weight” to the jar to keep them submerged. I like to add a big chunk of onion. Not only does the onion give great flavor, but it does a good job of keeping the cucumbers under the water. You may also add a clean rock if you don’t want to use an onion.

Put a top on your jar and leave on the counter for 3 days. Test a pickle on day 3. If it is to your liking, put the jar in the fridge. This stops the fermentation process. You won’t have to worry about keeping the pickles submerged once they go in the fridge. If the pickles are not to your liking, keep testing them each day. You know they are perfect when they taste great to you and they still have their crunch. If you leave them out on the counter too long, they will lose their crunch and get really soft so it’s important to put them in the fridge when they are to your liking. No one likes a limp pickle 

If you start to see a white film or mold on top, just skim it off. It is harmless (just yeast!), but it will impact the taste of the pickles, so you want to skim it off as soon as you see it.

Your pickles will keep for 6 months in the fridge. Enjoy!