Thursday, May 15, 2008

History of cucumber

History of cucumber

The English word "cucumber" comes from the Latin name cucumis. The Bohemian agyrka, German Gurke, Greek aggouria, and our word "gherkin," meaning a small cucumber pickle, all trace back to an old Aryan word. Sometimes today we facetiously refer to this vegetable as "cowcumber," not realizing that English writers of 300 years ago called it "cowcumber" in all seriousness.

Cucumbers, a member of the gourd family, have been cultivated by man for at least 3,000 years. They originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, probably in or near present day India. The cucumber has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years in Western Asia, and was probably introduced to other parts of Europe by the Romans. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.

From India, it spread to Greece (where it was called “vilwos”) and Italy (where the Romans were especially fond of the crop), and later into China.

One old record claims that the cucumber was introduced into China as "recently" as the second century B.C. At the beginning of the Christian era it was grown in North Africa as well as in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and the countries to the east.

The Romans used highly artificial methods of growing the cucumber when necessary to have it for the Emperor Tiberius out of season. In classical Rome, Pliny reported greenhouse production of cucumbers by the first century, and the Emperor Tiberius was said to have had them at his table throughout the year.

Charlemagne had cucumbers grown in his gardens in ninth-century France. They were reportedly introduced into England in the early 1300s, lost, and then reintroduced approximately 250 years later.

The Spanish began growing them in Hispaniola by 1494, and less than a century later European explorers were noting that a wide range of Native American peoples from Montreal to New York, Virginia, and Florida were cultivating them, along with a large variety of other crops including maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, and gourds.

Most of the distinct types of cucumber grown today were known at least 400 years ago. Present forms range from thick, stubby little fruits, three to four inches long, up to the great English greenhouse varieties that often reach a length of nearly two feet.

History of cucumber