Thursday, February 11, 2010
I was in my local Supermarket today and came across a shelf full of the ubiquitous cucumber. Wonderful for salads and sandwiches. They are not native to the UK, having originated I believe in India where a large number of different varieties can be found throughout the Continent.
It has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years in Western Asia, and was probably introduced to other parts of Europe by the 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 grows as a creeping vine that roots in the ground and grows up supporting framework, wrapping around with thin, spiraling tendrils. The plant has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruit.
The fruit is roughly cylindrical, elongated, with tapered ends, and may be as large as 60 cm long and 10 cm in diameter. Cucumbers are grown to be eaten fresh, but a good housewife with economy in mind can actually pickle them.
As compared to eating cucumbers, pickling cucumbers tend to be shorter, thicker, and have bumpy skin with tiny white or black dotted spines. Color can vary from creamy yellow to pale or dark green. Cucumbers are soaked in brine or a combination of vinegar and brine, (never vinegar alone), often along with various spices. Pickled cucumbers are often referred to simply as "pickles" in the U.S. or "Gherkins" or "Wallies" in the U.K.
Cucumbers are mainly eaten in the unripe green form and contain over 90% water content, so are ideal for those on a diet.
Having an enclosed seed and developing from a flower, cucumbers are scientifically classified as fruits. Much like tomatoes and squash, however, their sour-bitter flavor contributes to cucumbers being perceived, prepared and eaten as vegetables.