Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Cukes From The Yarden

Lemon Cucumber - Cucumis sativus
Lemon Cucumber - Cucumis sativus

About Lemon Cucumbers

Our yarden is full of interesting variations of the hum drum produce bought at the stores.  This year, we tried growing lemon cucumbers, botanically named cucumis sativus.

Along with the lemon cukes, we are growing the straight 8 and Armenian varieties.  They were all started from seed at the same time, but the first ones to show up were the lemon cukes.

Right away, these cukes seemed to be a bit different from the others.  The black dots on the skin of this particular cuke is some kind of thorn, I'm guessing, but has been referred to as more of a five o'clock shadow by others.  The "thorns" do have a texture more like bristly new facial growth.

Lemon Cucumber
Cucumis sativus flower
Aside from the color, shape and the odd "hairs", the flowers seemed to be shaped differently than the flowers we normally see on the other vine varieties.  In the sample flower photo from our garden the flower appears to be a bit askew.

The petals of the lemon cucumber flowers tend to have more petals, are oddly shaped and honestly a bit more interesting than the typical five petal versions.

Our vines are smothered with these flowers, more often of the five petal variety than the six petal varieties.  On other vines, I haven't seen any six petal flowers.

Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus flower and fruit
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis
sativus flower and fruit
Following successful pollination, a bulb appears at the back end of the flowers, the flowers eventually wither and die off, leaving a rectangular type of fruit to grow on.  It was at this time we started looking for information about when a lemon cucumber is ripe and when is it best to eat and what is it used for.
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits with "belly buttons"
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus
fruits with "belly buttons"

Another very interesting aspect of the lemon cucumber, which hasn't been noticed on other cucumber varieties is the remnant "belly button" left where the flower was.

In all the information read while researching about these adorable rotund cucumbers, no one ever mentions the "belly buttons", which makes a huge case supporting the lemon cucumbers character distinction from all the others. These really are quite different in appearance than any others.

How Do Lemon Cucumbers Slice Up Against The Others?

Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits sliced
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits sliced
Looks aren't everything...  the big question everyone asks is "how do these lemon cukes slice up in comparison to others?".  The big debate is when to pick them and how do they taste.

I've read some posts that picking the smaller cukes just turning yellow are the best to eat, because there is more flesh than seed, the taste is sweeter and the skin is softer.  To investigate this debate ourselves, we sliced up a just turned yellow cuke, about the size of a golf ball, and a larger brightly striped cuke, about the size of a tennis ball.  
  • Seed To Flesh Ratio:
    If comparing size, the seed to flesh ratio is about the same.  However, the larger cuke is larger, so there is more flesh just by volume.  The seeds are mature, so some can be saved for next planting season.  Picking cukes earlier, will probably not yield mature seeds for replanting later or in the next season.
  • Skin Texture:
    The skin is similar in texture in the smaller and the larger versions of the cuke.  The skin is similar to that of the straight 8, or the dark green long varieties of cucumbers commonly found at the grocery store.  Very edible (I never peel cukes).  The skin of the lemon cuke at the small and large size as picking is not as soft as the Armenian cuke skin.
  • Taste:
    The taste is not discernibly sweeter, or more or less mild by the size of these cukes, but there is absolutely no bitterness in lemon cukes.  I would say lemon cukes are not as sweet as the Armenian cucumbers (which are actually melons, anyway), but they are less bitter than the straight eight cukes.

    We tried no salt and with salt.  There is no distinct "cucumber" flavor normally associated with the straight 8 cucumber.  Some may say lemon cucumbers are bland, but they are pleasantly crunchy and have a nice, crisp feel.  They work well as a replacement for cucumber in any recipe, which includes the one day garlic pickles which everyone I know loves!
All-in-all, we will be keeping and replanting this cucumber variety, as it grows well in our area, is a fast crop and is very interesting to grow.  Want to grow your own?  Find out how at the almanac.