Interesting facts about cucumbers

Cucumber Beth Alpha Cucamelons Hanging on the vine cucumbers

Cucumbers were originally found in India around 4000 years ago, and they have since become the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world. China is the largest commercial producer. The species grown for food are Cucumis sativus (cucumber) and Cucumis anguria (West Indian gherkin). The latter is grown in Central America, the West Indies and the southern United States. Its fruits grow to around 6cm long and are usually eaten raw or pickled while immature. In temperate countries such as the UK, cucumbers are grown to maturity in a greenhouse or polytunnel, although ridge cucumbers and our form of gherkin are a little hardier and can be planted outside when danger of frost has passed.

Cucumbers were very popular with all classes of citizens in Ancient Rome, and they remained popular in Italy for several centuries afterwards. The Emperor Tiberius insisted on eating cucumber every day of the year, and it was also used extensively in the medicine of the day.

They have the distinction of being mentioned in The Bible:

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick. Numbers 11:5.

Cucumbers found their way to England during the 14th century, but were not at all popular. They did become more widely eaten during the 17th century, but they suffered from the erroneous belief that fruit and vegetables were potentially harmful unless cooked, which became widespread in the latter part of the century. The first documented use of the phrase ‘cool as a cucumber’ was in the poem “A New Song”, by John Gay in 1732.

Cucumber is an essential ingredient of the Indian dish raita, where it is mixed with yogurt and seasoning and eaten as an accompaniment to hot dishes. The Greek dish tzatziki is similar to raita. Cucumbers are high in potassium and fibre, and have moderate levels of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and magnesium. Cucumbers are made up of 95% water, 3.4% carbohydrates and 0.75 protein.

In these increasing packaging-conscious times, we may wonder why commercial producers sometimes shrink-wrap cucumbers. Research has shown that a wrapped cucumber can last up to three times longer than an unwrapped one. Wrapped it will lose about 1.5% of its weight through evaporation after 14 days, compared with a loss of 3.5% in just three days if left ‘exposed’.

Cucumbers require a fertile, well-drained soil, but do not thrive in one with a low pH (acidic) one. The plants’ root systems are shallow, but wide-spreading. The incorporation of plenty of well-rotted organic matter into the growing medium is beneficial.

As the comedian Ken Dodd once said “What a lovely day for sticking a cucumber through your neighbour’s letterbox and shouting ‘The Martians have landed!'”

 

To browse all the Cucumbers we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow these links to the cucumber seeds section or the cucumber young plants section of our website

 

Royal Horticultural Society

 

This article was first published on the RHS website February 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing cucumbers successfully.

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