C is for cooki…. errr, sorry, too much Sesame Street. Let’s try again - C is for Cucumber (Cucumis sativus).
This elongated fruit is no stranger to most folks. I wouldn’t say I’m in love with them but then I realised I buy at least a couple of cucumbers a week and even tried to grow some (unfortunately the seedling were massacred by slugs).
Lebanese cucumber (L), Telegraph cucumber (R), Apple cucumber (above). These are what they are called in the shops here in OZ so please don't email me to say I've named them wrong. They're probably called something different elsewhere.
What’s the appeal of this vegetable/fruit? The flavour isn’t very strong although the taste is quite distinctive. However, cucumber does add a welcome melon-like texture to salads and of course it’s ultra-refreshing. The mild taste makes this vegetable a big favourite with the kids.
My late grandma used to call it coocoomber which still brings a smile to my face. She also wouldn’t use a cucumber without first rubbing a small cut-off end portion vigorously on the fruit surface to “draw out the bitterness”. This action would produce a freaky looking froth that impressed us kids. Unfortunately, this rubbing method is just an urban myth (1) and doesn’t really do anything for the cucumber taste.
Sorry folks - just an urban myth. Cool froth though.
While trawling the net for cucumber info, I found out that the cucumber we actually eat is the unripe green form. It seems that the ripe yellow fruit becomes too bitter to be palatable (2) . Cucumbers meant for the table are called slicers and those destined for the jar are called picklers, but they are essentially the same fruit (2).
In Australia, cucumber is sold by type, not variety. Apparently the flavour of cucumber is most pronounced in the seeds and medium sized cucumbers with small seeds taste better (5).
Cucumber contains Lutein and
Zeaxanthin which may help to improve eyesight(3). The skin of the cucumber contains cucurbitacins which could be the cause of the bitter taste(4) sometimes associated with cucumbers. Cucumber may also be beneficial in reducing cholestrol according to this study, but I can’t read the full article so I don’t know what the actual findings are.
Apart from culinary uses, many women have used cucumber slices to tame puffy eyes – why and whether this actually works is debatable, but it sure feels good. And according to this tidbit on Wikipedia, the Ancient Romans used cucumbers to scare away mice! Urm? Don’t the mice just eat the cucumbers?
Most of us have heard the term “cool as a cucumber” but it was news to me that the term “Silly Season” is known as "pickled cucumber season" (Sauregurkenzeit) in German(6).
Most of the time, I just slice and serve the cukes or throw together this very simple salad to serve with rice and dhal. The salad consists of tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, French shallots and coriander. I then make a super quick dressing using lime juice (about half a lime or more depending on the amount of salad ingredients), a pinch or salt and sugar and some ground, toasted cumin seeds. I think the inspiration for this salad came from a Good Weekend magazine column by Matthew Evans but I can’t remember for sure.
Hope you found this as fascinating as I did and see you for the letter D.