As it turns out, cucumbers really are cool. Studies have proven that cucumbers growing in the field are twenty degrees cooler than the surrounding air on warm days. Cucumbers are related to gourds and melons and they grow on creeping vines. They are native to Southeast Asia, but have been cultivated and grown throughout the world for millennia. India was likely the first place that cucumbers were cultivated extensively due to the huge number of Indian cucumber varieties that exist today. Evidence of cucumber cultivation and use exists in the ancient city of Ur, which dates back to 3800 BCE. Ancient Egyptians grew and ate cucumbers, as did the Greeks and Romans. The Roman Emperor Tiberius was a fan of cucumbers; he had them grown year-round in structures that functioned like greenhouses. Centuries later, the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne also grew cucumbers in his gardens during his reign in the eighth and ninth centuries. Cucumbers were introduced to England in the fourteenth century where they were grown in personal gardens. The earliest settlers in North America brought cucumbers with them, and Native Americans quickly adopted the crop. Many varieties of cucumber exist today, but all cucumbers fall into three broad categories: slicing, pickling and burpless (also known as seedless) cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers are generally large and thick skinned. They are primarily harvested when they are immature and green because slicing cucumbers become bitter and hard as they mature and turn yellow. As the name implies, slicing cucumbers are typically used raw and sliced into thin medallions. While any cucumber can be pickled, pickling cucumbers are bred exclusively for the purpose of pickling. They are generally shorter and thicker than most cucumbers, and have thick, bumpy skin that stands up well to the pickling process. Seedless cucumbers are called burpless because it was believed that cucumber seeds gave people gas. Burpless cucumbers typically have very thin skin and a sweeter flavor than other cucumbers. One of the most popular burpless cucumbers is the English cucumber, a very long seedless cucumber with mild, sweet flavor.
Cucumbers are most often used raw or pickled. Slices of raw cucumber are great additions to salads or sandwiches. Chopped cucumbers are sometimes added to tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad that is traditionally made with tomatoes, parsley and bulgur. Adding mint and cucumbers makes this dish a cool, refreshing meal for a hot day. Slices of cucumber can be a great way to serve appetizers and dips as a low carb replacement for crackers and chips. Cucumber can be a light, refreshing addition to tuna and chicken salads. Cucumber sandwiches are a light tasty lunch or snack. Start by smearing cream cheese on a slice of rye or whole wheat bread, layer cucumber slices, and top with tomatoes, lettuce, olive oil, red wine vinegar and some slices of avocado.
Pick cucumbers that are relatively smooth and free from defects. Fresh cucumbers are firm and heavy. Keep cucumbers wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. Slice cucumbers close to serving time to keep them from drying. They will last about five days. Peel waxed cucumbers, but it is advisable to leave the skin on un-waxed cucumbers because the skin contains a remarkable number of nutrients. Many people feel strongly about removing cucumber seeds, but keep in mind that the seeds contain most of the cucumber’s nutritional value, so eating them is a healthy choice. Thoroughly wash cucumbers before preparing them.