You might not know this, but cucumbers originated in India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, and were first cultivated around 3,000 years ago. From there, they spread east through traders, particularly Phoenician merchants who took the seeds to Egypt and Greece. They began to be grown in Sicily, mainland Italy and North Africa.
The Romans loved the decorative nature of the vines too, and grew them over trellises in their gardens. Emperor Tiberius is well know to have loved them and liked to grow them year round. His gardeners made portable beds so they could follow the sun and avoid the Winter chills.
From there the cucumber spread to other parts of Europe, the Middle East, and China. In the 16th century they made their way to North America. In Australia, seeds arrived with the English first fleet, and the first fruits were picked in 1789 in the garden of the first chaplain of the New South Wales colony, the Reverend Richard Johnson.
We can see the integration of cucumbers across all of these regions in modern times, but they were not always that popular. They were disparaged in North America in the late 1600’s, as the consumption of uncooked fruit and vegetables was considered unhealthy and dangerous. Cowcumbers, as they were called, were considered cattle fodder. Even in England they were considered as too gas producing, and fell out of favour for a while, although Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell was always fond of cucumber sandwiches. My father was too – with salt and white pepper.
Today, there are many types of cucumbers. I grew up with the Apple cucumber, eating them straight off the vine in our vegetable garden. There is nothing better than eating sun-kissed cucumbers. Today we have access to Lebanese, Green Ridge, Continental, Burpless, Telegraph, Gherkin and Mini cucumbers.
Buying and Storing Cucumbers
Look for cucumbers with a fresh, bright appearance, a crisp body and glossy, unblemished skin. The cucumber should be heavy for its size. Avoid limp cucumbers – they should be firm all over and not easily bent. Avoid any yellow tinge on green cucumbers.
Store in the crisper section of the fridge, away from fruit such as tomatoes, melons and apples as they cause them to deteriorate faster. Use quickly to enjoy them at their best. Many cucumbers come wrapped in plastic, although this will change over time as we continue to avoid plastic. If they do, keep the plastic on, it helps to keep them fresh until use.
Old recipes will often call for checking whether cucumbers are bitter (with techniques for removing bitterness), and preferred cucumbers to be peeled, seeded and salted. But modern varieties have little if any bitterness. Thin skinned types don’t need peeling, but some varieties have a thicker skin and peeling improves the dish – apple cucumbers and green ridge ones especially. Some recommend that the larger seeds of the apple cucumbers are removed, but as this was the cucumber that I grew up with, I don’t mind them.
Cucumbers are great in salads, cold soups and with yoghurt. They can be lightly sauteed or pickled. Cucumber juice is a refreshing addition to Summer juices and coolers.
All Cucumber recipes can be browsed here. Or try our