Have been very taken up with marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading/marking/grading...yes, it seems interminable to me too. Not finished yet, so just dipping my toe back into Tuesday night blogging with a short one.

Liz B in the UK emailed to ask me how to interpret English cucumber in an American recipe. And I replied with something like (but I've edited it now):
an English cucumber is just the kind you'd buy normally in a British supermarket as 'a cucumber'. They differ from the ones usually sold in the US, which are shorter, thicker- and smoother-skinned, and have bigger seeds.

So, here's what's called a cucumber in the UK and an English cucumber or seedless cucumber or even burpless cucumber in the US:


And here's what's called a cucumber in the US, which I've never seen in Britain so I don't know that it's called anything in the UK:

Before anyone asks, neither of these are BrE courgettes/AmE zucchini, which were discussed back at the Big List of Vegetables.  And if you want to know about pickled cucumbers [if you want to read my RANT about pickled cucumbers], click on those lovely, often misleading words. Oh, and the clipping cuke is an Americanism. We must be very fond of them to give them a nickname.


  1. The cross section in the lower picture looks very much like the one sitting in my fridge which I bought from Morrisons, so not unknown to the UK.
    Burpless does appear as a term in British gardeners seed catalogues.

  2. In Australia we call those smaller ones "Lebanese cucumbers". Occasionally the very large ones are referred to as "telegraph" cucumbers.

  3. I've changed the photo so it's more clearly an American one. Lebanese ones are different--the seeds are more like the English ones.

  4. If those small things were pickled, I'd definitely call them gherkins. My wife is sure that they're sold here unpickled as gherkins. Admittedly she's not a native speaker, but she is much more likely to buy the things than the average British native speaker.

  5. I only associate the term "gherkin" with very small, pickled cucumbers. I have, however, seen very small cucumbers labelled "gherkins" at one particular green grocer I've only recently been shopping in a quite a bit.


  6. In the States, the cucumbers in the lower image are sold as "pickling cucumbers." They are 4-6" long, and the skin hasn't been coated with wax so they go bad very quickly. Bigger cucumbers, about 10" long with a diameter of 2 1/2", are often coated with edible wax when sold in the wintertime. They are labelled simply "cucumbers."

    The long skinny guys are often shrink-wrapped for some reason; they are called "English cucumbers."

  7. My wife saw me googling to see whether UK online suppliers offered 'gherkins'. To clinch her original claim, she informed me that Gardeners' Question Time on the radio last week was discussing the growing of gherkins. Sure enough, this horticultural site offers cucumbers and gherkins with pictures that look very much like your two, Lynne.

  8. Interesting about gherkins. I don't think I've ever seen a raw gherkin sold in any grocery store. "Pickled gherkins" are easy to find, though, and are sweet and a little bigger than a cornichon.

  9. In my experience, home-grown cucumbers in the UK, especially heritage varieties, are much more like the cucumbers in the second picture.

  10. Hello,
    Here in the South of France we can find the two varieties. The E. cucumber for us is 'concombre' from Spain and the US one is 'concombre' from France! The ones from Spain are much cheaper, as are any products coming from that country.
    The French ones tend to be fresher, hence, more crunchy.

  11. The 'American' cucumber looks like one of the dwarf varieties that my wife grows. They're much easier to grow than the longer ones.

    Anyway since the majority of the 'English' cucumbers seem to come from The Netherlands, surely they should be 'Dutch' cucumbers? :)


  12. Checking further, Thomson & Morgan (seed merchants) differentiate the cucumber types in the upper and lower pictures into two broad categories: 'greenhouse' and 'ridge' (or outdoor) respectively.

    Within these categories are many varieties. I note that this includes 'burpless' types in the 'ridge' category

  13. ostephens

    This Thompson & Morgan page doesn't describe the burbles cucumber as ridge but does use that description for
    Gherkin 'Diamant' F1 Hybrid
    Cucumis sativus, Ridge Cucumber

    However, in the description of the burbless, they state that ridge means 'outdoor type'. I'm not sure that all horticulturists go along with that.

  14. @Diane:

    "Pickled gherkins" are easy to find, though, and are sweet and a little bigger than a cornichon

    I had to look up cornichon and I find that it is apparently simply the French for gherkin. So what's the difference, in your eyes?

  15. j0egreen

    I've always thought that cornichons were very small. The first result of googling confirmed this. I quote from Food Republic answering the question What is a coronation?

    If you're at all a fan of pickles, we can only hope you've discovered the cornichon. These miniscule sour French pickles are: 1. adorable; 2. absolutely delicious; and 3. very useful.

    Cornichons are made with mini gherkin cucumbers, one to two inches in length and harvested before reaching full maturity for an extra-tart bite.

    The website is American, but I'm sure a British website would say the same. Here's a link

  16. Yes, what are called 'cornichons' in UK are what I would have called 'gherkins' in AmE, and I'd never use 'gherkin' in AmE to refer to an unpickled cuke. This may be covered in the comments to the pickle post...but I'm not checking now...

  17. Both kinds illustrated are commonly available in Canada. The long, slender one is usually called an English cucumber even if grown here or in Mexico!In Quebec English Cucumbers (concombre anglais) are known as 'Concombre allongé'

  18. I've certainly seen the "American-style" cucumbers in French and German supermarkets, but not, as far as I can remember, in a British one. Which does not say a lot for British supermarkets (but my mother's Tesco did have Meyer lemons in it at the New Year, so there is hope).

  19. In French cornichon denotes either a gherkin-size pickle or a tiny thing like we buy in Britain. The word also denotes the vegetable before pickling.

    This blog post has a nice picture of Cornichon vs concombre. If you can't read French, here's a mechanical translation. I could do better myself but this has a certain charm:

    When I was little , I thought that if left too mature a pickle , it got a cucumber.

    Then I grew up and I thought it was fake .

    Only dictionaries are sometimes contradictory definitions. Nevertheless They do everything went two of the family Cucurbitaceae . Except it would be two different varieties .

    Even being great, I knew nothing .

    Then one day all gray , we finally told me the truth : A pickle , it does not become a real cucumber when it grows too !!

  20. Back in 1978, give or take a year, I was a Lektor in a German 'comprehensive high school' — they now call themselves a 'university'. One of my American colleagues invited us to share his pleasure in a magazine article he'd just received from America. That was when I first learnt of the burpless cucumber.

    Not sharing the American cultural sensibilities, I wasn't sure of the tone. I decided that it was probably seriously anticapitalist, cloaked in folksy wry humour. I'm almost sure the magazine was called Ma Baker's, although it's not at all clear why. The villains — and fools — of the piece were the corporate supermarkets out to change the readers' shopping and consumer habits in pursuit of the profit dollar.

    This was the start of bar codes at checkouts, so that the cashiers didn't need to notice what the item was. To show how idiotic this was, the writer had transferred a label from one fruit or vegetable to another very different item, and got though the checkout without challenge. Since then, of course, supermarkets devised very simple ways of preventing this.

    The other think I remember was the way the writer cited burpless cucumbers as the most ridiculous example of big business foisting on us foodstuffs for which there never was and never could be any demand.

    The magazine clearly it would be new and unfamiliar to their readers/. Trying and failing to identify the magazine, I found a reference to the 'new burpless style of cucumber' in 1976.

  21. The US cucumber is called “pepino” [peˈpino] here in Córdoba, Spain (I don’t think I’ve ever seen an English one, sorry). When I was a boy, some naughty classmate once called me “cara de pepino” [ˈkaɾa ðe peˈpino = cucumber-faced] because my face was, and still is, as long as a (US) cucumber.

  22. David Crosbie:

    From your description, I assumed the magazine was Mother Jones, and indeed, the January 1978 issue is available in its entirety on Google Books with an article on burpless cukes.

    (I can't quite figure out how to provide a direct link, but a search on for "Mother Jones 1978 cucumber" yielded it easily enough.)

  23. We had one of those US cucumbers delivered in our UK vegetable box this week and they called it a ridge cucumber. It's just like the cucumbers I used to get when I lived in Spain.

  24. My produce market sells both.

  25. John Cowan

    My produce market sells both.

    Where? Under what names? In what sense of the word market?

  26. What are marrows? -Amy from U.S.

  27. Click on the link to 'Big List of Vegetables' for more veggies, including marrows.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. David Crosbie: Sorry for posting in haste. A produce market, in NYC at least, is what I believe you call a greengrocer: a retail establishment specializing in fresh fruits and vegetables. (It's pronounced with combining tone, like English teacher 'teacher of English' as opposed to English teacher 'teacher who is English'.) The fat cucumbers are sold as-is, and the bin in which they sit is labeled "cucumbers". The thinner ones are wrapped in plastic, and there may be a label on the plastic; I'm not sure.

  30. Inasmuch as there is a large American seed, plant, and garden-supply merchant called 'Burpees', might the 'burpless cucumber' have been a play-on-words there ?

    Mere idle curiosity while watching the snow fall on New Jersey...

  31. I first travelled through the England in the 1960s and 1970s, and was the designated shopper for my family's picnics. The ordinary cucumber of the time was like the lower photo; recipes often stress peeling them and using a spoon to scoop out the bitter seeds. I vaguely recall the shrinkwrapped fancy ones arriving, at a high price point, sometime after we moved permanently in 1985. Confusingly, one often sees seed packets marked 'English seedless cucumbers'.

    Bon Appetit magazine has a nice article on them ( that leads with Samuel Johnson's remarks.

    As for the discussion of 'Lebanese' cukes, Trader Joe's (and other American stores at the deluxe end of the market) now sell something badged 'Persian' cucumbers:

  32. I guess English greengrocers don't carry Kirby cucumbers, a short fat firm cucumber favored for pickling. I haven't (in three minutes' searching) found out who Kirby was or why he (or she) has an eponymous cucumber.

  33. bklynharuspex

    The trick is to google kirby cucumber name. The top hit states

    Kirby Cucumbers is now a generic term for any small cucumber sold for pickling.

    There actually were actual Kirby Cucumbers, developed by a Norval E. Kirby and first released in 1920.

    More at COOK'S INFO.

  34. The Cook's Info site has an article on cucumbers in general which ends with this glorious quote:

    "A Cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." -- Samuel Johnson.

  35. I enjoyed this site very much as far as the cucumbers are concerned: realseeds
    Funny thing is that my British husband calls the little ones early fortune cucumbers or just mini.

  36. Not a BE /AE issue per se, but my German husband and I were shocked to discovered "gherkins" have nothing to do, tastewise, with German "gurken". (cucumber/pickle)
    I (US) had never heard the term "cornichon" used in English before...

  37. I was in Waitrose this morning.

    [For readers who have never lived in the UK, this is easily the most upmarket of the nation-wide supermarket chains. Variations on the same joke are told of each of the others that it exists 'to keep the riff-raff out of Waitrose'.]

    Thinking that this was the place most likely to find unusual or exotic produce, I had a search for gherkins/mini-cucumbers/kirby cucumbers. No joy, but the search brought home to me why there's no market for such a thing.

    [OK, there's a market among home-picklers, but they are too few to attract the attention of supermarkets.]

    We don't think of buying small-size cucumbers in Britain because there's a long-established habit of buying half cucumbers.

  38. In Australia the long one would be called a 'continental cucumber' and the shorter one a 'Lebanese cucumber'. (That's what my family would call it, anyway.

  39. Haven't American cucumbers been genetically modified so they grow pre-packed in their own plastic sheaths?


  40. >Anyway since the majority of the 'English' >cucumbers seem to come from The Netherlands, >surely they should be 'Dutch' cucumbers? :)

    >28 January, 2015 09:50

    In Spain the short cucumbers are called 'pepino'. The long ones are called 'pepino holandés'. That's Dutch cucumber :)

  41. I've seen those smaller cucumbers sold at Asda as 'baby cucumbers'

  42. I've just come back from New Zealand, where I made sure to look at the cucumbers in the supermarket.

    English cuke = telegraph cucumber in NZE

    US cuke = cucumber in NZE

    And there were small versions that looked like the US cuke that were called Lebanese cucumbers.

  43. My mother (a schoolgirl in the 1920's) referred to the 'american' type cucumber as an Outdoor Cucumber and it was grown in the garden, fertilised by bees and contained seeds. The English cucumber is greenhouse grown, bees were kept out, and so was not fertilised so no seeds.


The book!

View by topic



AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)