Written by Mary Roduner, former SDSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Field Specialist.
It is now my favorite season—cucumber eating season. To have the best tasting cucumbers you need to know which type you are growing and when to harvest them.
The two main types of cucumbers are pickling cucumbers and slicing cucumbers. Both can be used for fresh eating or pickling if picked at the proper time. Other cucumber types grown less frequently such as Armenian, burpless, gherkins and Asian varieties all have different requirements for picking.
Pickling cucumbers are a short, blocky fruit with firm flesh. Most varieties make crispy firm dill pickles when picked at approximately 4” in length. Cucumbers that grow to the 5-6” range before they are great for slicing.
Slicing cucumbers are longer and thinner in shape with flesh that is less firm than pickling varieties. They are best at about 7-8” in length for eating raw and in salads. These cucumbers are good for pickling when they are picked smaller and less mature at about 5-6” in length. Any longer and they tend to get mushy. Less mature slicing cucumbers have firm flesh like pickling cucumbers and can be substituted if pickling varieties are in short supply. Some varieties of slicing cucumbers have very tender skins and bruise easily, so pick and handle them carefully.
For any cucumber type, look at the seed package for your variety’s optimum picking size. If the fruits grow too long, or stay on the vine beyond their optimal size they will become soft and the seeds will be large and firm.
Very ripe cucumbers turn deep yellow, the flesh will be spongy, and the seeds so hard that they are not edible.
Cucumbers picked after their prime and used for pickling can become mushy and sometimes have a slick feel when held in the hand. While they are edible, many people feel that mushy pickles are undesirable. One use for large overripe cucumbers is to make ring pickles where the large seed cavity is removed. These pickles are often made with a salt or pickling lime brine to firm the softer flesh.
When the growing season ends and frost threatens, pick any cucumber over ¾” long. These baby cucs can be pickled for very crispy gourmet dill or sweet pickles that are favorites in my family.