ancestral vegetables

cucumber seed packetSaturday I put some seeds of Armenian cucumber into the ground.

There are heirloom vegetables and then there are ancestral varieties like this, varieties that go so far back into history that to grow them and have them at your table is to connect with history, traditions and the ground that they grow in. The Armenian cucumber dates back at least to the fifteenth century, when it was introduced into Italy from Armenia. I’m sure it was being consumed long before then.

Although called a cucumber it’s actually classified as a melon, Cucumis melo var. flexuosus, and is closer genetically to honeydews than to the standard English or pickling cucumbers. With its unusual ribbed creamy green exterior, you have to do a bit of explaining when you share the extras from the garden: well, yes…it’s called a cucumber, but it’s really something different…

The flesh is mild and firmer than any other cucumber out there, almost crunchy, the texture of unripe melon. The fruits can easily reach 30 inches long, but are best picked when half that size. They’re great in salads, and they pair amazingly well with tomatoes.

Last year I started them in late June and had cucumbers 60 days later. Two hills of plants were plenty for two people, with cukes left over for the neighbors. Pretty good soil, moderate watering and occasional fertilizing kept them happy and productive until the end of September. Some people trellis them, but they’re fine if you let them roam like other melons. I like this variety so much that it’s one of those plants that I’ll keep planting as long as I have room for it.

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