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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Know Your Cukes

For many of us, cucumber season is nearly over, but there are several U.S. growing zones still harvesting, not to mention our southern hemisphere readers who are starting to plan their summer gardens.  So, it seems like a good time to discuss the difference between a slicing cucumber and a pickling cucumber.

Now, first and foremost, there is no cucumber police that will come banging down your door if you slice a pickler and pickle a slicer.  I do so myself every year, because I happen to like the flavor of my picklers raw, and I like the way my slicers hold up to my pickle brine.  But if you are selecting a variety to grow or buying a bunch at the farmer's market, you may want to know the difference.

In the photo, the slicing cucumber on the left is an heirloom "Straight Eight;" the pikcler on the right is a "Burpee Pickler" hybrid that I let get a little over-large.  For comparison purposes, the one on the right is about seven or eight inches long at this point.

The slicing cucumber, the "Straight Eight," has a darker, more even skin to it.  The skin is a bit thicker, which makes it easy to peel if you like your cucumbers peeled for either pickles or eating raw.  It also has a lighter, more consistently-colored interior flesh, and the seed cavity is a bit bigger.

The picker, the "Burpee Pickler," has a more variegated skin that is thinner than the slicer.  In the early season, it is quite easy to mar the skin with your finger nail when you pick the fruit.  The interior is a bit more colorful, a pale yellow as opposed to the white of the slicer.  The seed cavity is smaller than that of the slicer.

Overall, the pickler would be ideal for pickling whole as gherkins (if harvested small) or as whole kosher dills, because the thin skin and robust flesh would allow the brine to soak into the fruit and flavor it without it losing it's integrity.  The smaller seed cavity means you have less mess in your jar and less excess liquid to contend with if you slice them.

But, as I mentioned, I never obey this.  I find a slicing cucumber to be just right for my bread and butter pickles, while the more robust flavor of the pickler is better in a salad.  That may just be me.  But one thing's for sure: enjoy your cucumbers now, before you have to go back to those flavorless, store-bought things!
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