Cucumbers are among my favorite vegetables. I like their robust growth habits and enjoy the wide variety of fruit shapes, colors, and sizes. Most importantly, I love to eat them!
While I will always grow traditional green-skinned cucumbers, I am planning a 2013 trial of cucumber varieties that have white, cream, and brown skins. My experience with such cucumber varieties has so far been limited to Boothby’s Blond (available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds), a 60-day heirloom variety grown for several generations by the Boothby family of Livermore, Maine. The cream-colored fruits are mild and sweet, best picked between 4- and 6-inches long. I enjoy them in salads, cucumber sandwiches, or as a treat to munch while working in the garden. I also enjoy the satisfaction that comes from growing a vegetable variety with a link to Maine’s past.
For 2013, I want to expand my experience with cucumbers of a different color, growing a hill or two of each different variety. Of the dozen or so 2013 seed catalogs stacked on my writing desk, only four offer one or more of the eight non-green varieties discussed below. I have listed the web addresses of these seed companies at the end of this column.
In addition to Boothby’s Blonde, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds also sells Miniature White, a white-skinned pickling cuke with tiny black spines that easily rub off as you harvest the fruits. Boothby’s Blonde also has these spines. Production on the bush-type plants of Miniature White begins early in the season, only 50 days after sowing, and the plants seldom spread more than 3 feet, making them ideal for container culture, an option I may need to grow all of the varieties in my “Not Green Cucumber Trials”. Although Miniature White is promoted as a pickling cuke, it is delicious eaten right off the vine.
Crystal Apple, available from Baker Creek, produces creamy white fruits the size of a small apple, about 3 inches round (see photo). The flavor is sweet and mild, the skin so tender that you can eat the fruits without peeling. An heirloom cuke introduced to America in 1930, Crystal Apple has become rare in contemporary gardens.
Baker Creek also sells seeds of Dragon’s Egg, a Croatian heirloom cuke, describing the fruits as cream colored and about the size of a large egg with a mild, bitter-free, sweet taste. They do not mention the maturity date but do remark that Dragon’s Egg set massive yields in their gardens.
New to The Cook’s Garden catalog is Brown Russian (61 days), a Ukrainian heirloom cucumber with brown skin and clear white flesh. The flavor is described as “mellow sparked with sugary high notes and not a bit of bitterness”. Fruits should be harvested when they are 5 to 7 inches long.
All four of the listed seed companies offer Lemon, an heirloom cucumber (introduced in 1894) described by High Mowing’s catalog as a “specialty variety prized by discriminating salad chefs for its delicate flavor and crunchy bite.” The 3-inch round fruits are best picked when they turn from pale greenish yellow to lemon yellow. According to Johnny’s Selected Seeds, they do not contain much of the chemical that makes some cucumbers bitter and hard to digest. Lemon takes 60 days to mature. While it does well in short summers, Johnny’s catalog copy notes that it begins
bearing noticeably later than other varieties.
Poona Kheena, an heirloom from India sold by High Mowing, is described as a cuke with great flavor and resistance to disease. The fruits are light yellow-green when young and begin turning russet-brown at full maturity. They are best harvested just as browning begins. At this stage, the skin has a sugary-sweet flavor and the flesh is juicy and crisp. Poona Kheena takes 50 days to mature in the garden.
Johnny’s markets Salt and Pepper, an organic, white-skinned pickling cuke with powdery mildew resistance. It is similar in size to Miniature White and Boothby’s Blonde but with improved flavor, according to Johnny’s catalog. Bred at Cornell University and thus not an heirloom variety, the disease resistance is noteworthy.
I am looking forward to growing all eight of these cucumber varieties in Marjorie’s Garden next season. I will report back to my readers on my discoveries. If any of you decide to try one or more of these cucumbers of a different color, let me know what you think of them.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds.com
High Mowing Organic Seeds, www.highmowingseeds.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Johnnyseeds.com
The Cook’s Garden, www.cooksgarden.com