< Vegetables



Cherished universally for its moisture and cool brisk taste, the cucumber in its wild state still may be found in the southern approaches to the Himalayas. It was domesticated in Asia and its cultivation spread westward and southward in the early classical period. Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the cucumber familiar to Theaphrastus and Pliny differed from modern forms in having a rougher, pebbled rind and a more irregular configuration. Columbus brought the vegetables with him to the New World and planted it in Haiti in 1494. The vegetable was so familiar to the early explorers that Cartier, DeSoto, and the 16th-century English adventurer Arthur Barlow believed that Native squashes they encountered in Indian gardens were cucumbers. Authentic cucumbers grew in the gardens of Jamestown and Plymouth.

By the time settlers planted New World gardens, European gardeners had developed several distinct varieties of the vegetable that gathered unto them a bewildering multitude of names. The standard cucumber for pickling (Cucumis satevus vulgaris), middling in length, green complected and moderately rough skinned would become identified as the “Early Cluster” by 19th-century American seedsmen. A longer, rougher cucumber with more point to the ends was familiar to American gardeners as the Long Green Prickly Cucumber or the Early Frame. The smooth skinned, seven/eight inch rounded cucumber popular for salad slicing in the 19th century bore the name, “Long Green Turkey” cucumber. The very long, narrow seedless variety became known as the Long Green English Cucumber. The ovoid, white cucumbers cultivated for the cosmetic trade were known either as the Bonneiul or the Dutch White. During the 19th-century several sorts of Russian-bred cucumbers that had the rounded configuration of melons became fashionable among experimental gardeners. Gardeners and plant brokers during the 19th century elaborated each of these varieties, developing dwarf versions, or cultivars that came to market earlier, or were more amenable to forcing in hot houses. One of the most popular of these market creations was the West Indian gherkin, a refraction of the first of the varieties above, that would become the smallest cucumber widely grown, used exclusively for pickles.

Cucumbers grew in most kitchen gardens in the United States and became an important item in the hot houses of market gardeners. Several maxims governed their growth: enrich the soil to enrich the crop; don’t overcrowd—one cucumber planter per hill; don’t plant near melons, pumpkins, or squashes if you are producing seed; raise the vines and fruits off the ground for larger crop and healthier growth (piles of brushwood were a favorite mode of elevation); “When the plants have got two rough leaves out, they will begin to make a shoot in the middle. Pinch that shoot off.” It will make the plant fruit weeks earlier.[4]

The editor of the Southern Planter in 1854 wrote, “Who ever heard of cooking a cucumber? We hear our readers exclaim! Try it; and then tell your neighbors how well a poor man may live in this country.” The comment encapsulates the great debate of the period—are cucumbers best eaten raw and pickled, or boiled and fried? The tradition—brought by settlers from Europe during the colonial era was to feast on uncooked cucumbers. During the eighteenth century, physicians contemplating the nature of human digestion started viewing cooking as an externalized form of digestive process, something that greatly aided the efficient uptake of the body of the nutritional elements of food. Uncooked fruits and vegetables did not get fully utilized by the body, and indeed, troubled the stomach and intestines by reason of a resistance to full incorporation. They prompted dyspepsia, a gastrointestinal disorder that prompted gas, stomach aches, blockage, and every other sort of internal distress. By the second decade of the nineteenth century the linkage between raw fruits and vegetables and dyspepsia had become so ingrained in Anglo-America that it became old wives lore. Witness the following comic satire on the dyspepsia scare published in 1831: “Who ever heard of farmer’s children with their pockets full of green apples, and their hands full of cucumbers ever having the dyspepsia? But we are creatures of habit after all, and there are certain old women in large towns who have made it their business for years, at this particular season to call upon their neighbors for the sole purpose of cautioning them against allowing their children to eat cucumbers, ‘for they are despised bad things,’ for which advice they expect a cup of tea; then follows on a set of doctors, half old women and half quack, who will tell that ‘cucumbers are of a clogging nature, that they stop of the bilatory ducts, and produce cholera morbus.” The author counsels that the scare mongers be ignored, and that “if parents would furnish their children with more fruit during warm weather, it would be much more for their health.” The writer was the prophet of twentieth century treatments of the cucumber, which reverted to the original emphasis on the raw fruit or the pickled condiment. Yet in his day, he could not counter the immense influence of the English physician, Dr. William Kitchiner, who wrote a cookbook, The Cook’s Oracle (1821), that gave the stewed cucumber the imprimatur of health as well as fashionability. The mid-19th century became the heyday of the cooked cucumber, with housekeepers and chefs in every region experimenting with methods to render the vegetable palatable and avoid the pitfalls inherent with its moist texture. Cookbook writers offered encouragement to their readers by assuring them the cook vegetable was indistinguishable from eggplant (which was never eaten raw and only infrequently pickled). At the same time the global stretch of American commerce made the world of spices available to many cooks in the United States, permitting them to enrich the range of flavors in pickles. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century experimentation began on the cold cucumber soups that have refreshed the summer table for much of the twentieth century.

1. E. Lewis Sturtevant, “History of Garden Vegetables—Cucumber,” American Naturalist 21 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1887), pp. 906-910.
2. “Early Cucumbers,” New England Farmer 6, 33 (February 22, 1828).
3. Worcester Yeoman, New England Farmer 4, 44 (May 16, 1826), p. 347.
4. William Cobbett, The American Gardener (London: C. Clement, 1821), art. 217.
5. Southern Planter 7, 11 (November 1847), 339.
6. Genesee Farmer 1, 31 (August 8, 1831), p. 242.

Early - Early Frame    History

- standard variety, medium-size

Early Green Cluster    History

a short, prickly, seedy variety, bearing in clusters near the root; a great bearer

Early Russian    History

very early garden variety, good for pickling; small and short, sets in pairs

Early Short Green    History

productive, good for table and for pickling

Early White Spine    History

superior for table use, ark green, tender, very productive, good for pickling

Bismarck    History

a cross between the White Spine and Long Green; light green varying to white, with few spines; flesh very crisp and tender.

Boston Market    History

improved variety of the White Spine, largely used for forcing by the market gardeners around Boston; productive

Chinese Long Netted    History

has a pretty, reticulated skin; very prolific and hardy, flesh thick and firm.

D.M. Ferry & Co.’s Perfection    History

not only the best for pickling, but for table too. Crisp and tender.

Green Prolific    History

new (as of 1877), the result of over 50 years’ careful selection; the most prolific grown, immensely productive and excellent for pickling; crisp and tender.

Improved Long Green    History

crisp, tender and good flavor, hardy and productive, makes a good pickle

London Long Green    History

about one foot in length, flesh greenish-white, firm and crisp

Long Green Prickly    History

about a foot in length, pointed at the ends, dark green & crisp, makes for hard & brittle pickles.

Marquis of Lorne    History

attains a length of 37 inches, though tastes best when about 25 inches long. has few seeds, very solid and crisp, not bitter at the ends like other varieties.

Russian Netted    History

a native of the Ukraine, very prolific, and surpasses all others in hardiness; middle size, flesh white, and the skin covered with a pretty brown network which imparts a peculiar appearance.

Tailby’s Hybrid    History

derived from the crossing of the Early White Spine with one of the largest English frame varieties. The English Frame cucumbers are much larger than our American varieties, some of them growing to thirty inches in length, but they are so tender that they cannot usually be relied upon in open air cultivation in this country. In Tailby’s Hybrid, however, we have a perfect success in hardiness.

White German    History

enormous, handsome, and surpasses most of the foreign varieties in vigor and productiveness. Possesses few seeds.

Bedfordshire Surprise    History

hardy, productive, succeeds in open ground

Chinese Long Green    History

long, hardy, and productive

Cuthill’s Highland Mary    History

deep green, smooth and prolific; 18-20 inches

Giant of Arnstadt    History

a splendid bearer; best forcer; 20-24 inches

Gladiator    History

excellent, fine and large variety

Glory of Arnstadt    History

straight, smooth and thick; dark green; 18-20 inches

Godfrey’s Black Spine    History

a new variety (as of 1873); long

Hamilton’s British Challenge    History

“The English grower says of it, ‘This Cucumber surpasses any variety raised. It is of extraordinary length. I have grown it forty inches long. It combines all the recognized ne plus ultra of perfection, i.e., splendid form.’”

Hamilton’s Goliah    History

“The grower says of this: ‘The largest of all the White Spines, with scarcely any neck, and the freest bearer I ever grew, frequently showing seven fruit at a joint.’”

Long Green Southgate    History

favored much in England; hardy

Lord Kenyon’s Favorite    History

fine for winter forcing; 12-18 inches

Mill’s Jewess    History

excellent, dark green; 18-24 inches

Roman Emperor    History

dark green, prolific; 12-15 inches

Serpent, or Snake    History

“The French say that ‘this variety is good for vinegar pickling.’ It is remarkable for its curious form, the fruit being elongated and flexuous. Has been measured at 5 ½ feet in length.

Sion House Improved    History

dark green, solid; 20-24 inches

Sir Colin Campbell    History

popular, large

Small Green Prickly, or Gherkin    History

excellent for table or pickles

Small West India Gherkin    History

used exclusively for pickles; smallest of all the varieties and should always be pickled when young and tender.

Stockwood Selected    History

choice and hardy variety; 18-20 inches

Sooly Qua    History

a new Chinese variety of enormous size, growing 5-6 feet in length; coiled snakelike; considered by the Chinese a great delicacy, both boiled and raw; fine ornamental foliage.

Swan Neck    History

a new variety (as of 1876), very promising.

Victory of Bath    History

well adapted for forcing or general crop

Wood’s Long Ridge    History

a superior hardy variety

Cucumbers (Every Lady’s Cook Book 1854)    History

The fresher this vegetable is, the more palatable and wholesome. To dress the, cut off about an inch of the stem end, which is generally bitter, and take off every particle of the green outside, then lay them in a pan of cold water before slicing. Leaving them in water, after they are sliced, takes away that peculiar flavor which is their characteristic. Send them to the table sliced, thin, with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Young onions are sometimes sliced with them, and are thought to render them less injurious. Cucumbers are liked cut in quarters to eat with salt.

Plain Cucumbers (American Matron 1851)    History

Cucumbers should be gathered early in the morning. Peel them, and pour scalding water over them. Let them stand till nearly time to serve. Slice them, adding salt, pepper, and vinegar.

Boiled Cucumbers (Mrs. Hale’s New Book of Cookery 1852)    History

(Dr. Kitchiner’s Receipt) Cucumbers may be cut into quarters and boiled like asparagus, and served up with toasted bread and melted butter. This is a most delicate way of preparing cucumbers for the dinner-table, and they are a most luscious and savory dish. [Hale indicates that asparagus are boiled ½ an hour in water seasoned with a handful of salt].

To Stew Cucumbers 1 (American Domestic Cookery 1823)    History

Slice them thick: or halve and divide them into two lengths; strew some salt and pepper, and sliced onions; add a little broth, or a bit of butter. Simmer very slowly; and before serving, if no butter was in before, put some, and a little flour; or if there was butter in, only a little flour, unless it wants richness.

To Stew Cucumbers 2 (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Peel and cut cucumbers in quarters, take out the seeds, and lay them on a cloth to drain off the water; when they are dry, flour and fry the in fresh butter; let the butter be quite hot before you put in the cucumbers; fry them till they are brown, then take them out with egg-slice, and lay them on a sieve to drain the fat from them (some cooks fry sliced onions, or some small botton onions, with them, till they are a delicate light brown color, drain them from the fat, and then them into a stewpan with as much gravy as will cover them); stew slowly till they are tender; take out the cucumbers with a slice, thicken the gravy with flour and butter, give it a boil up, season it with pepper and salt, and put in the cucumber, as soon as they are warm, they are ready. The above, rubbed through a tamis, or fine sieve, will be entitled to be called “cucumber sauce.” This is a very favorite sauce with lamb or mutton cutlets, stewed rump-steaks, &c., when made for the latter, a third part of sliced onion is sometimes fried with the cucumber.

Cucumbers a la Mode (Great Western Cook Book 1857)    History

Get them fresh and green, cut them in long slices, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and fry them in sweet lard.

Fried Cucumbers (Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea 1860)    History

Take the cucumber just as it begins to turn yellow, peel and slice it in salt and water, drop it into hot water, and boil until tender. Season it with pepper and salt, and fry it in butter. You can scarcely tell it from eggplant.

Fried Cucumbers (Creole Cookery Book 1885)    History

Slice 8 middle sized cucumbers, flour them slightly and fry a light brown in a little lard; pour off the lard and add to the cucumbers 4 tablespoonfuls of hot water, 2 of wine, 2 of walnut catsup, pepper, salt, and sliced onion, (if you like it) a lump of butter dipped in flour; stew about 15 minutes. A teaspoonful of mustard is better than the onion.

Baked Cucumbers (Queen of the Kitchen 1874)    History

First parboil the cucumbers; then slit the cucumbers down one side, leaving the skin all in one. Season the cucumber with grated bread, butter, pepper, salt, a little onion, and thyme. Mix all well together and bake in the skins. They are like eggplant.

Cucumber Puree (Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen 1881)    History

Peel the cucumbers, cut them into dice, and put them on the fire, very early in the morning, with vinegar, cayenne pepper, salt, a small onion, and a few celery seeds. Stew gently until dinner time.

Cucumber Sauce for Fish or Meats (Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen 1881)    History

Grate as many peeled cucumbers as will make four heaping table-spoonfuls. Add four table-spoonfuls of sweet oil, one and a half table-spoonfuls of best vinegar, a little salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir well together, and keep on ice until wanted for use.

Cucumber Sauce (Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen 1881)    History

Slice some medium-sized cucumbers, drain the liquor from them, and put the, with four onions, into a stewpan with a piece of butter. When sufficiently stewed to pulp through a colander, add a large tea-cup of cream, a little flour, and pepper. Boil twenty minutes, and when about to serve, add salt.

Cucumber Catchup (Lady’s Receipt Book 1847)    History

For a small quantity, take twelve fine full—grown cucumbers, and lay them an hour in cold water. Then pare them, and grate them down into a deep dish. Grate also six small onions, and mix them with the grated cucumber. Season the mixture to your taste, with pepper, salt, and vinegar; making it of the consistence of rich marmalade or jam. When thoroughly incorporated, transfer it to a glass jar, cover it closely, tying down over the top a piece of bladder, so as to make it perfectly air-tight. It will be found very nice (when fresh cucumbers are not in season) to eat with beef or mutton, and if properly made and tightly covered will keep well. It should be grated very fine, and the vinegar must be of excellent quality—real cider vinegar.

Cucumber Catsup (Queen in her Kitchen 1874)    History

Pare the cucumbers, and take out a white vein that runs along the cucumbers, dividing it in 3 parts; cut them in pieces the ¼ of an inch in thickness; cut onions in small square pieces; put 1 quart of onions to 3 quarts of cucumbers; sprinkle them with a good deal of salt, and put them to drain. After the water is all off, take to every 4 quarts 1 pint of wine, ½ tea-cup of mustard seed, ½ tea-cup of ground black pepper, 6 dozen cloves, a little mace, mixing all well together. Put them into small jars, and fill them up with vinegar; in 10 days, put more vinegar, and tie them down with a bladder.

Cucumber Vinegar (American Domestic Cookery 1823)    History

Pare a slice fifteen large cucumbers, and put them in a stone jar, with three pints of vinegar, four large onions, sliced, two or three shallots, a little garlick, two large spoonfuls of salt, three tea-spoonfuls of pepper, and half a tea-spoonful of Cayenne. After standing four days, give the whole aboil; when cold, strain, filter the liquor through pepper. Keep in small bottles, to add to salad, or eat with meat.

To pickle young Cucumbers (American Domestic Cookery 1823)    History

Choose nice young gherkins, spread them on dishes, salt them and let them lie a week—drain them, and, putting them in a jar, pour boiling vinegar over them. Set them near the fire, covered with plenty of vine-leaves; if they do not become a tolerably good green, pour the vinegar into another jar, set it over the hot hearth, and when it boils, pour it over them again, covering with fresh leaves; and thus do till they are of as good a colour as your wish:--but as it is not known that the very fine green pickles are made so by using brass or bell metal vessels, which, when vinegar is put into the, become highly poisonous, few people like to eat them.

To Pickle Cucumbers (Virginia Housewife 1838)    History

Gather them full grown, but quite young—take off the green rind, and slice them tolerably thick; put a layer in a deep dish, strew over it some chopped onion and salt; do this until they are all in; sprinkle salt on the top, let them stand six hours, put them in a colander-when all the liquor has run off, put them in a pot, strew a little cayenne pepper over each layer, and cover them with strong cold vinegar; when the pot is full, pour on some sweet oil, and tie it up close; at the end of a fortnight, pour off the first vinegar, and put on fresh.

Pickled Cucumbers (Every Lady’s Book 1854)    History

Make a strong brine (which will float an egg), and pour over it your pickles, let them stand in this for a day and night, then take them from it, put them into a bright brass kettle with vinegar and water, and a good bit of alum, to green and harden them. Fold a thick coarse towel over them, and simmer them until thoroughly heated through, then take the up with a skimmer into a stone pot or firkin, and cover with cold strong vinegar, with plenty of spice, cloves, mustard seed, and whole pepper.

Ripe Cucumber Pickle (Godey’s Lady’s Book 1870)    History

Pare them, take out the seeds, cut in rings an inch thick; then simmer in weak alum water an hour; take them out, drain them, and lay them carefully in a jar, then prepare a syrup of one gallon good vinegar, two cups sugar, one ounce cinnamon, one ounce ginger-root; pour it hot over your pickles. This is a delightful pickle and will keep sealed up a long time.

Ripe Cucumber Mustard Pickle (Mrs. Elliott’s Housewife 1870)    History

Peel ripe cucumbers and lay thin in salt six hours. Drain them through a colander, get some good English mustard, put a layer of cucumber cut in slices, cover it with mustard, a little black pepper, and a little sugar. Fill the jar in this way and pour hot vinegar over it, with a few spices boiled in and strained out.

Cucumber Mangoes (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Cut a long narrow piece out of the sides of large Turkey cucumbers, scoop out the seeds, and with a part of them mix some mustard seed, shred garlic, and grated horse-radish; stuff the space as full as it will admit of, and replace the piece which was cut off; bind them with a thread; put over them hot vinegar three successive days, and boil with it the last time pepper, flour of mustard, and some salt; put them into jars, and pour over them the boiling vinegar, and when cold, cover them closely.

Preserved Cucumbers (Southern Gardener and Receipt Book 1860)    History

After greening with vine-leaves and alum, wipe the cucumbers I a dry cloth, and season the inside with a mixture of bruised mace and lemon-peel. Tie on with a pack-thread the piece that was taken out. To every pound of cucumbers, add a pound of loaf sugar. Put them in a preserving kettle, a half-pint of water to each pound, and the beaten white of an egg to every four pounds. B oil and skim the sugar till quite clear, adding sliced ginger and lemon to suit the taste. When cool, pour it over the cucumbers, and let them lie in it two days, keeping them covered with a plate, with a weight on it. Then boil up the syrup again adding one-half as much sugar, etc., as at every six cucumbers. The lemon must boil in the syrup but two minutes. Then strain the syrup over the cucumbers, and put them up in small jars corded tightly.

Cucumber Soup (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Make some broth with a neck of mutton, a thick slice of lean bacon, an onion stuck with three cloves, a carrot, two turnips, some salt, and a bunch of sweet herbs; strain it; brown with an ounce of butter the crumb of a French roll, to which put four large cucumbers, and two hands of lettuce cut small; let them stew a quarter of an hour, and add to them a quart of the broth; when it boils put in a pint of green pease, and so it stews, add two quarts more of the broth.

Cream of Cucumber Soup, Queen Style (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Pare one and a half dozen medium sized fresh Cucumbers, slice them in half and take out the seeds. Then cut them in scallops and parboil them for two minutes, after which drain them. Then put them into a saucepan with a piece of butter and set them on a brisk fire. When the moisture is reduced add one quart of white broth to them, with a faggot of parsley well garnished. Season them with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little fine sugar. When they are cooked, add two quarts of Cream sauce, and let them cook slowly for ten minutes. Then take out the faggot and rub the soup through a fine sieve; then return it to the saucepan and keep it warm in a hot water bath. Before serving add half a pound of butter in small pieces, and stir briskly with a whick untilt he butter is melted; then add some fine chopped chives.