Food Information


Cucumbers are related to squash and melons. They are produced in all states and are available twelve months of the year. During the winter months supplies from California, Florida, and Texas are supplemented by imports from Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean.

There are many varieties of cucumbers, but they can be broken down into three basic types: the run-of-the-mill, smooth-skinned garden cucumbers; the small, warty-skinned pickles; and the elongated, almost seedless European cucumbers.

The regular cucumbers can be found in all retail outlets and usually sell at modest prices. They are used primarily in mixed salads but are used occasionally in cold soups. They may be hollowed out and stuffed with rice and ground meat, using the same recipe as you would for baked stuffed peppers.

Garden-variety cucumbers are shipped to market in four grades, but the consumer is not privy to this information. All grades of cucumbers usually come from the same field. They are sorted and graded at the packing houses and the grades are stamped on the shipping containers. The retailer is not required to post these grades. The best cukes are graded as super select or small super. To earn this top ranking the cucumbers have to be clear-skinned, dark green in color, straight and symmetrical in shape, and fairly thin in diameter. The next best grade is called select. These are not quite as symmetrical and may be slightly off-color.

The cukes that do not meet the super select or select standards are graded as commercial and the oversized, very thick cucumbers are graded as slicers. While the slicers look impressive, they usually sell at wholesale for less than half the price per bushel of the super selects. The slicers are no bargain because they are sometimes puffy rather than firm and they always have very large, coarse, oily-flavored seeds. The smaller the cuke, the smaller the seeds, and the better the flavor.

The best flavored cucumbers, but not the best looking ones, are called pickles or Kirbys. The Kirby is a variety that is pale green and off white in color. They are quite small, but the smaller the better. They aren't very symmetrical and the skin is warty. However, in this case looks are deceiving. They are crisp, crunchy, and the tiny seeds give them a fine flavor. The Kirbys are also used to make the dill pickles that you buy in jars.

The smallest variety of pickle is called the gherkin. These are also very tasty when eaten raw, but they are seldom found in retail markets. The commercial processors contract for them by the ton and pay the grower top dollar.

The European cucumbers rate an A for color, size, and shape, but not for flavor. They are practically seedless, but it is the seed of the cucumber that carries most of its flavor. Because they lack seeds, they are sometimes marketed as burpless cucumbers. While they can be grown outdoors on trellises, they are usually grown in greenhouses. They are always more expensive than regular cukes.

When choosing any type of cucumber, the darker the color (except for the Kirbys), the better. A yellow color indicates old age and possibly hard seeds. The slim medium or small cucumbers are preferable to the big fat ones. Avoid any cucumbers that are puffy, soft, withered, or shriveled (soft ones sometimes have a bitter flavor). Cucumbers keep for more than a week in the refrigerator, but it is preferable to use them in a day or two after purchase.

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