These sweet cucumbers aren’t cucumbers at all. They’re in the muskmelon family along with cantaloupe and honeydew. The slightly sweet, melon-like flavor should have tipped me off. They’re also called yard-long cucumbers, snake melons and cucumber melons. Armenian cucumbers are recognizable by their light green color and peach fuzz. The peach fuzz is unnoticeable once the cucumber grows; the fuzz washes off very easily when the cucumbers are small. In addition to the common mint green Armenian cucumbers, you can also find dark green and striped varieties of cucumber melons, including Dark Armenian, Metki Painted Serpent, Puglia Half Long, Barese, Carosello, Tortorello and Tondo Manduria. These varieties look more like regular green cucumbers, but still have the taste of an Armenian cucumber.
Armenian cucumbers, an heirloom variety, has high yields of unusual, mild-tasting fruit that turn yellow when fully ripe (for seed saving). They are great for slicing and pickling. The fruits have a cantaloupe-like aroma when sliced. Although they grow up to 3 feet long, they are best harvested when 12 to 15 inches long. The fruit will grow straighter if grown on a trellis. When grown on the ground, the fruit is often crooked. They should be planted and grown like any cucumber and will cross-pollinate with all other melons in the c. melo family.
Most gardeners either love or hate the Armenian cucumber. If they hate it, it is often because they pick it when it is too big. The Armenian cucumber is the “zucchini of the melon family.” It grows very quickly, going from too small to too big almost overnight. As the cucumber grows, its flesh turns from a tender, cucumber taste to something reminiscent of the crunch of a carrot and the taste of a watermelon rind. It has a smooth skin that can be eaten raw and has lengthwise ridging.
Though it is botanically a melon (c. melo) like a cantaloupe or a honeydew, it is used like a cucumber because it tastes like one when it is small. So why do people grow the Armenian cucumber instead of other cucumber varieties? Well, for several reasons. For the amount of space used, you can just grow more fruit at a faster rate. The Armenian cucumber vine really pumps out the fruit. They set fruit very early on the vine and grow incredibly well, tolerating both poor soil and extreme heat.
With so many benefits, why doesn’t everyone grow Armenian cucumbers? For starters, the texture is just not the same as regular cucumber. Though the taste is like a cucumber the texture is much more like a zucchini.
The second reason is because of the disease issues. The Armenian cucumber is much like fireworks. It shoots out fruit quickly and prolifically but also fizzles out quickly due to its susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew. It is so good at carrying these diseases that it will often infect all neighboring cucumbers, including both the regular and melon varieties.
The last reason is that if you miss one cucumber it will become gargantuan almost overnight. If you’re saving seeds, a fat seedy cucumber that is starting to turn yellow is what you want, but if your purpose is only to eat the cucumbers, you will find that overlooking a cucumber often causes the plant to start dying from putting all its energy into seed production and the resulting fruit will probably not taste as good as the mouth-watering cucumber you desire.
There is no need to peel the Armenian cucumber. Its thin skin makes it an ideal slicing cucumber. Armenian cucumbers should be refrigerated until ready to use. They favor being served raw in chopped salads and pasta salads. Their delicate flavor allows them to become a perfect textural component in sandwiches and sushi. Also, they can be grilled, pureed or pickled. Complementary ingredients include red and white fish, shellfish, chiles, tomatoes, mint, oregano, yogurt, garlic and cumin.
Armenian cucumbers are such an amazing fruit that they may be a cucumber of the future. Seed for Armenian cucumbers is quite readily available and easy to grow. Plant them now for a taste treat this summer.