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As you will quickly recognise when you bite into one, cucumbers are not only crisp, but also cool and moist, attributes due to their exceptionally high water content. The cucumber belongs to the same vegetable family as pumpkin, courgette , watermelon, and other squashes. Today, cucumbers grow in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from the 1" long ones sold as gherkins to mammoth greenhouse varieties that can reach 20" or longer.

In recent years, cucumbers grown in greenhouses have become widely available. Most of these varieties tend to be thin, smooth skinned, and one to two feet in length. The majority are also seedless, or nearly so. For that reason, many people find greenhouse cucumbers easier to digest (hence another of its names, the "burpless" cucumber).

Cucumbers and coolness are natural partner, at least in the sense that the vegetable must be kept cool, or it will quickly wilt to soggy limpness. (Overchilling or freezing, however, will reduce the inside of a cucumber to mush.) At the supermarket, cucumbers should be kept refrigerated. At a farmers' market or roadside stand, they should always be displayed in the shade.

No matter what kind you buy, look for cucumbers that are very firm and rounded right to the ends; avoid any with withered, shriveled tips. Although the overall size varies with the type, slender cucumbers typically have fewer seeds than thick or puffy ones. Beware of cucumbers that bulge in the middle, since they are likely to be filled with large seeds and have watery, tasteless flesh. Waxed or not, their skin should be a rich green, not extremely pale and definitely not yellow. Watch out for bruises or dark spots.

Unwaxed greenhouse cucumbers are usually shrink-wrapped in plastic.

Store cucumbers in the refrigerator salad drawer. Uncut, waxed cucumbers will keep for about one week. Check unwaxed cucumbers every day or so and discard any that show signs of decay. Wrap cut cucumbers tightly in plastic wrap and use within a day or two of purchase.

If a cucumber is unwaxed, you can leave the skin on, but rinse it well before eating it. All waxed cucumbers should be peeled; slice off the ends first, to make the job easier.

Even if the seeds are small, some people prefer to remove them before serving cucumbers. Simply halve the cucumbers lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with the tip of a teaspoon. Then slice, dice, julienne, or grate the flesh.

There are several ways to remove the bitterness cucumbers sometimes have. Try cutting off the ends and peeling the skin. If that does not work, sprinkle the peeled cucumbers with a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a few drops of vinegar, and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.

The delicate flavour of cooked cucumbers nicely complements fish and poultry. Season the them after cooking with herbs, dill, mint, tarragon or basil, for instance, lemon juice, or a favourite dressing or sauce.


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