No cu­cum­bers

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Plant's With A Purpose -

My hus­band has a cu­cum­ber fetish. He de­vours cu­cum­bers like ap­ples, straight off the vine with­out peel­ing.

His all-time favourite is the heir­loom ap­ple or le­mon cu­cum­ber, a mild, crisp, ap­ple-shaped cu­cum­ber which ripens to a lemony-gold colour about ten­nis ball size. It’s at the top of his seed or­der list ev­ery year and it’s the end of the world if I don’t grow some.

From the gar­dener’s view­point, le­mon cu­cum­ber is more than worth its gar­den space. It bears pro­lif­i­cally, with­stands bad drought con­di­tions more than other cu­cum­bers, re­sists rust, and con­tin­ues to pro­duce when the tem­per­a­tures drop. You never have to worry about keep­ing them – there will be more on the vine to­mor­row – and you can eat them in one meal and give the ex­tras to friends.

Le­mon cu­cum­bers don’t have a le­mon taste but they are milder tast­ing than other cu­cum­bers and when picked young, the skin is not bit­ter. They are also con­sid­ered one of the hardi­est cu­cum­bers.

Last year we tried the va­ri­ety Crys­tal Ap­ple with its smooth, whitish, egg-like fruit. If it weren’t for the soft prick­les which de­velop on fruit as they ripen, you could be for­given for think­ing the plants were bear­ing eggs.

This sea­son we also tried the Ori­en­tal cu­cum­ber Soo Yoh. This cu­cum­ber has high heat tol­er­ance – it was not in the least per­turbed when our green­house tem­per­a­tures swept up to 40°C in our sum­mer heat wave. How­ever, watch­ing it ma­ture, I was scep­ti­cal it would even be ed­i­ble. The long, dark green fruit ribbed with high spines looked more like some­thing that would re­pel pests. But once peeled and sliced, it was de­li­cious with a sweet, slightly nutty flavour.

Cu­cum­bers are one of the old­est veg­eta­bles with records of cul­ti­va­tion dat­ing back some 3000 years. Cleopa­tra was re­puted to have used cu­cum­ber to pre­serve her beau­ti­ful, milky white skin. The Ro­man em­peror Tiberius was in love with cu­cum­ber, in­sist­ing his poor gar­den­ers pro­duce it 365 days of the year. Cu­cum­bers were first recorded in In­dia, home of the clas­sic curry com­ple­ment, the cu­cum­ber and yo­ghurt dish called raita.

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