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The Facussa

What is a Facussa?

The Facussa is a light slender tortarello-type snake melon exhibiting bands of dark splotching that still grown in and around the town of Carloforte on the Island of San Pietro in Sardinia, Italy. This Cucumis melo variety flexuous was brought from Tunisia by indigenous sailors. The heat-loving vines that produce a continuous harvest of long beautiful fruit that are consumed like cucumbers.

How did the Facussa get to Sardinia?

Sometime after 1500, after Italian sailors had colonized the islands around Sardinia, they brought over a group of Tunisians from Africa. Along with other things, these Tunisians brought with them seeds of a long somewhat striped cucumber that they called “Faguss” or “Faquss”, which in Arabic roughly translates to “cucumber”.

While the cucumber was favored by the inhabitants of its new home, the Tunisians were unfortunately not. Over time there was conflict between the Sardinians and the Tunisians, which resulted in the latter being sent back to their African homeland. Unlike the Tunisian inhabitants, what was not sent back was their cucumber. Now in the hands of the Italians, the name of this snake melon was Italianized to “Facussa”. The main town on San Pietro Island, Carloforte, offers this variety in its markets from June through late August.

How do I grow the Facussa?

After sourcing high quality seed and preparing the beds, prepare the seed for planting by pre-sprouting. Germinating the seed prior to planting can often save time, but be careful when handling seedlings as melons and cucumber have very delicate roots that are easily damaged and root shock will stunt plant growth. Plant seeds or seedlings in the soil when there is no longer any danger of frost.

As melons, the Facussa prefers full sun and plenty of above-ground heat and enjoy soils rich soils that drain well. When preparing the garden beds, keep in mind that the Fucussa vines are sensitive to overly wet roots, so should be grown in raised areas or hills in areas where the climate is cool and summer precipitation is abundant. While in dry hot climates, this cucumber-melon can be grown on level ground or in slightly lowered gardens.

The Facussa produces sprawling vines that require some dedicated space. The length of the fruit ranges from merely 6 inches (15cm) to several feet (over 1 meter) and each vine can easily cover 6 square feet (about 2 meters). Vines with smaller fruit will set cucumbers earlier while vines with longer fruit tend to set fruit later. The fruit of the Facussa is at prime fresh eating quality when 1.5 – 2 inches (4 – 5cm) in diameter at the widest (not longest) point. Similar to harvesting zucchini or a summer squash, pick early and often for a reliably high-quality crop of appealing cucumbers.

As the summer heat sets in, these heat-loving vines will produce fruit at an accelerated rate. Shade cloth is both unnecessary and unneeded. Though the longer vines can last longer into the season, in areas with a long warm season, planting every 4-6 weeks will ensure consistent harvests of fresh high-quality fruit.

How do I save seed from my Facussa?

For seed saving, ensure that the Facussa is grown far from any other muskmelon, Armenian cucumber or any other type of Cucumis melo – regardless of the type. Allow the best fruit to ripen and grow large on the vine. Pick when the fruit changes color, begins to smell sweet, slips from the vine, begins to decay or a combination of any one of these factors. Once harvested, store fruit in a cool dry climate until harvesting seeds.

To harvest seeds, cut the fruit length-wise over a colander and scoop seeds out so they drop into the colander. Remove large pieces of inner membrane pulp from the seeds and knead any remaining seed/pulp to loosen the pulp. Rinse and repeat. If any gel membrane remains on the seeds, squeeze out as much liquid from the pulp mixture and set it aside in a jar to ferment for 12-24 hours, then empty into a colander and repeat kneading the pulp and rinsing out the seed. If needed, water winnow. When water winnowing, not all viable seed will always sink to the bottom of the container. Depending on the harvest, a large portion of the healthy viable seed will float near the top of the water. When seed is clean and rinsed, set it in a cool dry place. Once completely dry, dry winnow the seed to remove any light seed. Test seed germination, Label the container with the variety name and date, and store the processed seed in a cool dry place.

Source Information

For More Information about the Facussa, see:

Facussa Wikipedia Page (The picture was provided courtesy of Cucumber Shop) https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facussa

Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for a Tunisian caponata, with the Facussa as a main ingredient: https://gordon-ramsay-recipe.com/tag/carloforte

History of the Facussa in Carloforte: https://www-ilgiornaledelcibo-it.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.ilgiornaledelcibo.it/facussa/amp/?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15962440495426&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilgiornaledelcibo.it%2Ffacussa%2F

Scientific Gardener Blog Posts:

The Facussa

The Facussa in the Chicken Garden

YouTube videos about the Facussa:

The Facussa

The Facussa, Part 1,

The Facussa, Part 2

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Small fruits consumed like cucumbers (the Gherkins and Pseudo-gherkins)

What small fruit is consumed like a cucumber?

In addition to Cucumis melo and Cucumis sativus, there are several other fruiting plants that are consumed as cucumbers. These include the Cucumis anguria and the Melothria genus. Though both of these are in the family Cucurbitacea, both possess attributes that are markedly different from C. melo or sativus. The fruits of both C. anguria and Melothria are much smaller, they grow on thin vines that are very disease resistant and the vines continue to expand until the first frost.

The ‘Jamacian Burr Gherkin’ Cucumis anguria cultivar

What is a Burr Gherkin?

The Cucumis anguria is often referred to as ‘Maroon Cucumber’, ‘West Indian Gherkin’, ‘Burr Gherkin’ or just ‘Gherkin’. While the word gherkin does orginate from the Dutch word ‘gurken’ – meaning a small pickled cucumber – these small cucumber-like fruit are not baby pickles, but rather a species of plant that carries the botanicall nickname “gherkin”. While botanical gherkins usually produce small fruit that are suitable to be processed into pickled gherkins, I have found no specific information concerning the origin of the botanical nickname. Native to Africa, these juicy and generally spiny fruits made there way to central and south America with the slave trade. Once established, the vines are prolific, producing fruit which taste very similar to a cucumber – albeit without the bitterness. With fig leaf-shaped vines that are hardy until the first frost and fruit that will last for a while longer, the Cucumis anguria can easily establish itself as a weed in tropical and subtropical climates.

The hardly spiny Ethiopian cultivar of the botanical gherkin or Cucumis anguria

What are the distinguishing characteristics of the Melothria genus?

Another cucumber-like fruit that are native to the southern United States and Mexico are those in the Melothria genus. The Melothria scabra from Mexico and the Melothria pendula from the southern United States look very similar to little watermelons. They may be little melon-like fruit eaten like cucumbers, but they are neither a melon or a cucumber. Nor are they botanical gherkins, though they are similar in size and growth pattern to the C. anguira. In this way, they may be referred to as “pseudo-gherkins”. The small cucumber leaf-shaped vines start as very small plants, but will grow – over time – to take over very large areas. The stem of the Melothria genus easily reroots when placed on moist soil and the roots can establish tubers which, in tropical and subtropical frost-free climates will become perennial. These tubers resprout earlier in the season and grow much faster than vines started by seed. Attributes such as covering large areas of land, producing large quantities of fruit, rerooting and setting tubers can be a double-edged sword. While vigorous fruiting plants are ideal for gardeners wanting a bountiful harvest, these same characteristics can lead to the vines establishing themselves as a pernicious weed.

Fruit of the Melothria scabra, or ‘Sanditas’ on the vine

What is a Sandita?

The Melothria scabra is the most familiar Melothria species. In Spanish it is called the ‘Sandita’ or ‘little watermelon’. Other names for the fruit include ‘Mexican Sour Gherkin’ ‘Cucamelon’ or ‘Mouse Melon’. Once rare, they have become quite common among gardeners and gardening catalogues. The oval Sandita fruit tends to be best when ¾” to 1” in length and still shiny but become less desirable as the fruit surface becomes dull and wrinkled. While many love the ease of growing these mini melons, there is a large range of opinions about their palatability, flavor and texture – from delicious bitter-free lemony cute crunchy snacks to snot-textured cucumber-rind flavored little fruit. When compared with the mass-produced cheap grocery store cucumber, Sanditas likely seem quite delicious. But just because a food is bitter-free (liver, for example) doesn’t mean that people will want to consume it. That being said, because of its ease to grow and its appeal to those wanting to grow “baby watermelons” the Sandita is likely to remain a mainstay among gardeners.

Some Sanditas (Melothria scabra) in a bowl

What is a Creeping Cucumber?

A close relative – also coming from North America – is the Melothria scabra, or ‘Creeping Cucumber’. So similar are the two species in characteristics that it is possible that in some of their overlapping range, the two will cross. Other than the fruit of the Creeping Cucumber being slightly smaller than the Sandita, the young Creeping Cucumber looks and tastes just like the Sandita. But as the M. pendula fruit matures from light to dark green, it also transitions from being a fun snack to also becoming a strong purgative/laxative. Another thing that sets this species apart is that, true to its name, the ‘Creeping Cucumber’ tends to sprawl along the ground – establishing roots at each stem internode that touches bare soil.

The Melothria pendula or ‘Creeping Cucumber’

Overall, African gherkins and American ‘pseudo-gherkins’ can be fun additions to most gardens. Their ease to grow in a variety of climates makes them suitable for new gardeners and their prolific nature and small size makes them suitable for young gardeners. Even for experienced seed-savers, they can be a very helpful addition to the garden. Along with their disease-resistance and season-extending attributes, the fact that these small-fruited vines cross with neither C. sativus, C. melo makes them an ideal for growing alongside any other vine that is grown as a cucumber.

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“Regular” Indian Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)

What defines a “Regular” Cucumber?

Cucumis sativus are generally considered a green cylindrical juicy fruiting vegetable that grows on vines in the warm season. Like other cucurbits, they are generally monoecious, “bearing staminate and pistillate flowers on the same plant”. (Paris et al 2012) They can also be other colors and shapes, but generally exhibit spines on the vines and often warts or spines on the fruit.

Marketmore 76 is a classic American C. sativus variety.

The Cucumis sativus has its origin in the Indian subcontinent and was not introduced into much of Europe until the mid-9th century. Much of its introduction was likely from Persia by land and through Islamic conquests by sea. Unlike the Cucumis melo which had previously been the cucumber variety being grown in much of Africa, the Middle East and Europe – the introduction of the Indian cucumber enabled growers to cultivate cucumbers in cooler regions, while the fruit itself can often be stored for longer and travel farther than Cucumis melo fruits. Some of the mature heirloom Indian C. sativus varieties can even be stored for several months after being harvested.

Mature Indian Sikkim Cucumbers can be stored for months after being harvested.

While there have been a number of developments to cucumbers over time, such as the thin-skinned Beit Alpha or Lebanese-types, English types and parthenocarpic cucumber varieties, in general cucumbers exhibit some drawbacks in relation to the Cucumis melo varieties that they replaced. The fruit of Cucumis sativus varieties often increase in bitterness when the plant is stressed, are less drought tolerant, have a sappy tacky aftertaste and can be difficult to digest. Even with these limitations, because of its ability to quickly grown in a range of climates as well as being suitable for storing and shipping, the standard sativus cucumber will likely remain the cucumber of choice for the foreseeable future.

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The Carosello Barese Cucumber

What is a Carosello Barese Cucumber?

Imagine you are an tomato gardener and find out a friend is growing tomatoes. You ask them what kind they are growing and they say “Red”. To which you ask them to be more descriptive. They reply “round”. You ask “Can you be a little more descriptive – like what type are they?” to which they reply, “I am growing red round tomatoes”.

Though this hypothetical narrative is very simple, so is the name of the Carosello Barese cucumber. There are dozens of unique carosello cucumber varieties, many of which originate from the area around Barese and also share the name “Barese”. While this particular carosello cucumber may very well originate from Bari, Italy – the variability of the variety as well as the traits that it shares with some other carosello varieties would lead some to believe that it is not a particularly unique carosello variety at all. The Carosello Barese can be incredibly variable not only from one seed supplier to another, but from one grower to another. But what exactly is a Carosello Barese? Generally speaking, a Carosello Barese cucumber is an Italian Cucumis melo (variety chate or Adzhur) that has an oval to cylindrical fruit with light colored exterior. The flesh of this thin-skinned cucumber is tender yet crisp, bitter-free and easy on the digestion. Currently, I know of two different variations of this one variety.

This variety of Carosello Barese is very similar to the Carosello Mezzo Lungo Barese, but much more juicy

The first type of Carosello Barese is very similar in appearance to the Mezzo Lungo Barese, except that it is not as hairy as the Mezzo Lungo Barese is. The outer skin is light in color and has some furrows spreading from end to the other along the long portion of the fruit. Unlike the Mezzo Lungo Barese, which is much more crispy, the flavor is much more like the Scopattizo Barese. The flesh is a little more tender and slightly more juicy than the Mezzo Lungo (or Medium Long) of Barese.

The Carosello Barese Cucumber from Italy – This variant is nearly identical to the Light Leccese

The second type of Carosello Barese that I know of is much more similar to the Carosello Bianco Leccese or, what I commonly refer to as the Light Carosello Leccese. This variety has thin tender skin and is has a relatively smooth cylindrical surface. However, the last Carosello Barese that I grew was much more variable in shape and growth (some growing bushy, while others grew longer vines) than the Bianco Leccese.

This Carosello Barese Cucumber (Cucumis melo var. chate) is very close to the Light Leccese

If you grow anywhere where heat is a concern or would just to grow a delicious cucumber for a change, you may want to consider growing the Carosello Barese cucumber. While not always the most consistent variety, they are often superior to many other cucumbers in taste, texture and quality.

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The Carosello Cucumber

So What exactly is a Carosello Cucumber?

Long before the regular Indian cucumber (Cucumis sativus) had swept through Europe, many varieties of immature fruit of muskmelon (Cucumis melo) thrived. After making their way up from Africa, these melon-cucumbers became the default cucumber for both the common people and the rulers. But perhaps because changes in politics or because of the practical demands of countries that prefer to utilize cucumbers for their storage qualities, Cucumis melo fell out of favor in almost all of the continent as the more cool-tolerant Cucumis sativus was introduced. While the majority of Europe had largely forgotten C. melo cucumbers, immature cucumbers continued to thrive in southern Italy. Small pockets of small-scale farmers continued to grow out these immature cucumber-melons for their families and to sell at market. In the Apulia region of Italy, this immature melon (Cucumis melo var. chate or adzhur) that is picked immature as a cucumber is known as a carosello. A carosello cucumber is a muskmelon that is picked early like a zucchini, yet consumed like a gourmet cucumber. With a fine crisp-yet-tender texture, rich flavor and exceptional quality, many carosello cucumbers are truly in a class of their own.

Carosello varieties – from the Biodiversity of the Horticultrual Species in Pugliga (BiodiverSO) website at biodiverbiodiversitapuglia.it
Image from the website For the Biodiversity of the Horticultrual Species in Pugliga (BiodiverSO) at biodiversitapuglia.it

Carosello cucumbers come in many shapes from longer to cylindrical to oval to round. They range in color from nearly white to slightly mottled, to slightly dark to fully dark green. Carosello can also exhibit different patterns such as striped, mottled or solid coloring. Many have a unique texture to the flesh and a taste that was selected by the individual farmers where they originated. Each variety has its own unique qualities that make it worth enjoying.

Various caroselli, courtesy of carosellopugliese.blogspot

Where did the Carosello cucumber get its name?

The name “Carosello” for these cucumbers came by Italian seed companies trying to label the seeds with a word that would be familiar with consumers. A friend of mine, Giuseppe Monteleone, who has a family history in the region where these cucumber-melons come from further explains: “In Italian the word “carosello” means the same as the English word “carousel” [meaning the amusement ride for children in which children ride around on a circle while listening to music from an organ]. In the case of the carosello cucumber, the most accepted explanation is that it comes from a local dialect word: “carusieddo” because the first place in Puglia in ancient times when “carusieddo” was first cultivated is Carosino, a small village close to Taranto. When seed companies decided to market “carusieddo”, they couldn’t write on seed packets a vernacular word, so they chose the closest Italian word to “carusieddo” as a sound: carosello, which doesn’t have anything to do with “carousel” in this case.”

Various caroselli, courtesy of carosellopugliese.blogspot

How do you grow a Carosello Cucumber?

Begin by finding high quality seed and preparing the beds. As carosello cucumbers are fundamentally melons (Cucumis melo variety chate) they tend to grow like other vines in the muskmelon family. Melons thrive in the heat and enjoy soils rich soils that drain well. They can be sensitive to wet roots and should be grown in raised areas or hills in areas where there is abundant summer rainfall.

Growing Striped Carosello Leccese (Meloncella Fasciata) cucumbers.

Germinating seed prior to planting can often save time, but be careful when handling seedlings as melons and cucumber have very delicate roots that are easily damaged and root shock will stunt plant growth. Plant seeds or seedlings in the soil when there is no longer any danger of frost. Vines prefer hot days and warm nights. While most carosello varieties produce their first crop of cucumbers when the vines are just over 12 inches in diameter, the roots will require more space as the vines grow.

Various caroselli, courtesy of carosellopugliese.blogspot

Carosello grow like a zucchini, with the initial cluster of fruit in the crown of the vine and later flushes of fruit setting further on. Similar to zucchini, carosello cucumbers grow quickly and should be harvested often. Any Pick fruit when between 1-2 inches in diameter as the quality is often best when about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Round varieties are often best when picked at the size of a peach (3-5 inches in diameter) fuzz on the fruit can either be eaten or can be easily brushed off dry or under a little running water. The skin of most varieties is thin and tender, while the flesh can range from tender, yet crisp to very firm. The initial flavor and texture is similar to a Lebanese or English cucumber, while the aftertaste is often slightly sweet. Carosello cucumbers are often easier to digest than regular cucumbers and, unlike regular cucumbers, the fruit does not exhibit bitterness when the plant is stressed.

How do you save seed from Carosello Cucumbers?

Saving seed of carosello cucumber is very similar to saving seeds of regular Muskmelon because they are Cucumis melo and will easily cross with any other muskmelon, such as cantaloupe or honeydew – and many of the same rules apply. One way to recognize fruit that is beginning to produce seed is that the fruit will first grow very large, then stop growing – even when the plant continues to thrive. To determine seed ripeness, look for fruit that slips from the vine, has changed color, begins to smell very sweet or has become very soft. Once the fruit begins to decay, seed can be removed, rinsed and dried for growing the next generation. Without intentional selection, open-pollinated vegetable varieties often experience what is called “drift”. This means that without saving seed from fruit and plants that exhibit characteristic traits of the specific cultivar, the variety can noticeably change over the course of just a few generations.

Saving Seeds of a Carosello Cucumber (Cucumis sativus var. chate)

Picture Sources:

BiodiverSO For the Biodiversity of the Horticultrual Species in Pugliga at biodiverbiodiversitapuglia.it

Carosello Pugliese Blog (Carosello Pugliese and other vegetables grown on the balcony) at: http://carosellopugliese.blogspot.com/

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The Snake Melons

What is an snake melon? What is an Armenian cucumber?

Similar to other muskmelons, Snake melons are from the species Cucumis melo, but instead of the melon being a round sweet fruit that is consumed when ripe, snake melons are long savory fruit that are picked immature and consumed as cucumbers. Snake melons are a variety of Cucumis melo called flexuous. The term flexuous means “full of bends and curves” and is synonymous with the word “curvy”. Unlike the United States and Canada, most countries have their own name for this unripe melon, which – in the local vernacular – means the same thing as what we call an “Armenian cucumber”.

While the stereotypical snake melon is light-green long and curvy, not all of them are. They come in a variety of lengths, colors and patterns. There are some that are dark green, striped, splotchy, extra long and thin, short and some that are so light that they are nearly white.

The Light Armenian Cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
The Light Armenian Cucumber compared with the Dark Armenian Cucumber (both Cucumis melo var flexuous)

Why are snake melons often called “Armenian” Cucumbers?

Armenian Cucumbers are mainly called that because they were brought by Armenian immigrants into the central valley of California somewhere between the late 1800s and early 1900s and became well known afterwards. While they are called “Armenian cucumbers” in the United States, these melons (Cucumis melo) that are picked immature as cucumbers have a long history dating back to ancient Egypt and were once the primary type of cucumber in much of the world. Many countries (and sometimes different regions within a country) have their own name for this type of cucumber.

The Dark Armenian Cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese is a Cucumis Melo cucumber
Slices of the Dark Armenian cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese cucumber (C. melo)

How do you know when to Pick a snake melon or Armenian cucumber?

Picking an snake melon is similar to picking a zucchini or any slender summer squash. The easiest way to determine when to pick an snake melon is by the diameter. Armenian cucumbers are usually most palatable when between 1-2 inches in diameter. The goal is to pick a crisp, yet slightly tender juicy cucumber. If picked too early, the fruit can be a bit dry yet somewhat tender while if it is picked later the fruit can be quite juicy but more firm and crunchy than a carrot. It is important to check the vines often for fruit because the ideal window of time for picking is usually only a few days. If the fruit is left on to mature for seed, the vines tend to siphon their strength into existing fruit for seed production instead of producing more fruit.

The Painted Serpent or Striped Armenian (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
Slices of the Striped Armenian, or Painted Serpent Cucumber
The Facussa is a very rare snake melon from Carloforte in Sardinia, Italy
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The Cucumber-Melons

What is a cucumber-melon?

Often when people think of a cucumber, they imagine an American long green thick-skinned waxy fruit that is purchased from a grocery store. Others imagine a Long English cucumber or a Lebanese thin-skinned small fruit. Even if an individual has never encountered a bitter cucumber or experienced indigestion from eating one, he may consider cucumbers to be bland, watery fruit that exhibit a bit of a slightly bitter sappy aftertaste. To all those who has become accustomed to the flavor, texture and aftertaste of regular Cucumis sativus cucumbers, and would prefer a better experience – there is a much better cucumber available.

Assorted Cucumis melo cucumbers, or cucumber-melons (See biodiversitapuglia.it)

Prior to the introduction of regular Cucumis sativus cucumbers, melons were the only cucumbers many were familiar with. Unlike the mature sweet muskmelons that we are accustomed to, Cucumis melo (or C. melo) was picked as a savory immature long delicious cucumber. From Ancient Egypt, C. melo cucumbers made their way to Europe. They were sought after by various groups of people and were a staple of kings and emperors.

The Cucumis melo varieties that are most suitable as cucumbers have been selected to be picked immature as cucumbers and generally have a taste, texture and growth habit that ensure that the expression of their best traits occurs during the immature stage of fruit development. The heat-loving vines develop fruit that is crisp, yet tender, bitter-free and gentle on the stomach. They slowly transpire water, have a moderate water content and often impart a rich, almost complex flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste. For comparison sake, cucumber-melons are like tomatoes in that they are a fruit that is consumed as a savory vegetable. Or you can think of them in the way that a zucchini is an immature form of squash. In short, cucumber-melons can be considered the gourmet “zucchini” of the muskmelon family.

Some Cucumis melo (melons) picked immature as cucumbers (see carosellopugliese.blogspot)

Cucumis melo fruit that is picked immature as a cucumber is often referred to as a melon cucumber or a “cucumber-melon”. While there are many indigenous varieties, there are two main types that people may be familiar with. The first and most common is, in America, referred to as an Armenian cucumber. One who has seen an Armenian-type cucumber will most likely envision a long light green smooth fruit with rounded ridges. But there are other types of Armenian cucumber including those that are light, dark, striped, splotched or may have other characteristics that set it apart from a regular Armenian cucumber. The Armenian cucumber also goes by many different names, depending upon the country someone lives in. The second, lesser known type of C. melo cucumber originates from southern Italy. These gourmet Italian cucumbers are generally referred to as “carosello”. Although shorter than most Armenian cucumbers, they display a range of flavors, colors, shapes and sizes.

Should someone ever get the chance to taste a cucumber-melon, they may find it very worthwhile. With their crisp, tender-yet-crisp, bitter-free rich texture and rich flavor it is no wonder why this was the cucumber sought after by kings.

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Defining Cucumbers

What is a Cucumber?

When someone says the word “cucumber” many different images can come to mind. Someone who lives in a remote village of one country may consider cucumbers to be completely different than someone who lives in a big city of another country. Even dictionaries have a different view of cucumbers. Merriam-Webster dictionary restricts the meaning of a cucumber to “the fruit of the vine (Cucumis sativus) of the gourd family cultivated as a garden vegetable” while the Oxford Dictionary describes cucumbers more broadly as “a long, green-skinned fruit with watery flesh, usually eaten raw in salads or pickled”

Ashley is an example of an American-style (Cucumis sativus) cucumber.
English Telegraph is an example of an English-style C. sativus cucumber
Beit-Alpha is an example of a Lebanese-style C. sativus cucumber
The Lemon Cucumber is an example of an heirloom Cucumis sativus cucumber

Though not everything that is considered a cucumber is from the species Cucumis sativus or even long, they all have some very common traits. They all grow on a vine and produce fruit in one season or less that is picked immature and eaten raw, in salads or pickled. The majority of what I would refer to as a cucumber are in the Cucumis genus and either Cucumis sativus or Cucumis melo. Not all C. sativus or melo varieties are palatable at their immature stage. Some at one stage or another are suitable for cooking. The Cucumis melo that are most suitable as cucumbers are those that have been bred to be picked immature as cucumbers and generally have a taste, texture and growth habit that ensure that the expression of their best traits occurs during the immature stage of fruit development.

Cucumis melo (left) and the Cucumis sativus (right) immature fruit have noticeable differences.

In both growing, taste, texture and juiciness, the two species of cucumber can be different. Cucumis sativus, which originates in Asia, are generally more tolerant of moisture and cool nights, but are more easily stressed by excessive heat. The fruit is generally harder, stores better and exhibits a high water content but presents a bit of a sappy aftertaste, can turn bitter when the plant is stressed and, depending upon the variety,  can cause indigestion.

An American-style C. sativus cucumber (left) compared to some C. melo cucumbers

Cucumis melo, which comes from Africa, may struggle with cool wet conditions, but thrives in the heat. Fruits of this kind are not bred for sweetness, but rather for their immature fresh-eating qualities. Instead of becoming bitter when the vine is stressed, the fruit may develop faster, may be smaller or may have smaller seeds. The cucumbers from these plants are generally crisp, yet tender, bitter-free and gentle on the stomach. They slowly transpire water, have a moderate water content and often impart a rich, almost complex flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste.

The Light or regular Armenian cucumber is an example of a Cucumis melo cucumber
The Mezzo Lungo (or Medium Long) of Barese is an example of a Cucumis melo cucumber
Tondo Massafrese (or Round of Massafra) is an example of a Cucumis melo cucumber

So – what is a cucumber? A cucumber is a fruit picked from a vine that is eaten fresh or used to pickle or cook that is generally considered juicy, crisp and delicious.