Cucumber

Gurka


Cucumbers are used a lot in Swedish cuisine, far more than in the UK.  Not only are they used in salads but they are also often pickled and used as side dish with hot food, something which might even be considered strange in the UK.

Eagerly awaited

A cucumber flower

Up until about 40 years ago, before cucumbers were imported, the arrival of the first cucumbers was awaited with great eagerness.  Nowadays cucumbers are available all year round, but when they were seasonal, the arrival of the first cucumbers of the year heralded the start of summer and so, just like with the arrival of new potatoes today, Swedes would be excited to see the first cucumbers of the year.

'Cucumber time' 

Cucumber played such an important part in life in Scandinavia that the silly news season (July and August) was called "cucumber time". The first recorded use of the expression 'cucumber time' was around the year 1700 when it used to indicate the time of year when tailors could not expect to earn much money because, 'when the cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town'.

In Norwegian it was called agurktid and in Denmark agurketid. The expression wasn't quite as common in Sweden, although I've seen references to gurktid in Skåne in southern Sweden. Instead, Swedes tended to say rötmånadshistoria (rotting month story). Nonetheless, all Swedes would know that gurktid meant the silly news season and this underlines the importance of cucumber in those days.

Ridge cucumbers


The watery cucumbers which dominate our supermarket shelves cannot be compared with a good quality home-grown cucumber or a good organic ridge cucumber.  A freshly picked summer cucumber is sweet, heavy and crisp, has a lower water content and much more flavour than the long straight cucumbers wrapped in plastic that we usually see on supermarket shelves.

If you are buying a cucumber in the UK it is worth paying a few pence extra and buying an organic ridge cucumber.  They tend to be shorter and with a few bumps on them but they do have more flavour.  (They are called ridge because originally they were grown on raised beds or ridges, but these days they are usually grown on the flat.)

Cucumber City

In the 18th and 19th centuries the growing of cucumber became popular, and the best place for growing them was around Västerås, about 100 km (65 miles) west of Stockholm.  As a result Västerås received the nickname Gurkstaden (the Cucumber City), which it still retains today.

Cucumber with HOT food!

Until I went to Sweden I don't think I had ever had cucumber served with hot dishes but in Sweden it is quite common and goes remarkably well. Give it a try!

Pressed cucumber

Pressgurka (pressed cucumber) is probably the most popular way of preparing cucumber in Sweden. It is served with köttbullar (meatballs) the most famous, or do I mean infamous, of Swedish dishes. Our recipe is easy to follow with lots of step-by-step photos. The pressing time varies a lot, from 15 minutes to 24 hours, but we think an hour is sufficient.

Pickled Cucumber


Smörgåsgurka (pickled cucumber) is also popular in Sweden. Usually the cucumber is pickled in spirit vinegar and herbs and spices, such as mustard seeds, dill, parsley, horseradish, allspice or chilli.

Once pickled, the cucumber must be stored in air-tight containers or a sterilised jars.  Usually it is kept for a week or so before it is eaten but some recipes suggest eating it as soon as it is cold.  Once opened, pickled cucumber can be kept for a couple of weeks in a fridge.

Cucumber salad


Cucumber goes well in salads either cut into thin slices or into small chunks.  However, it is probably nicer just pickled lightly with some dill as shown above.  It then makes an excellent accompaniment to a light salad lunch. Read our recipe >>>

Health Benefits

Cucumbers are good to include as one of your "five-a-day" portions of fruit and vegetables. Cucumbers are known to contain chemicals that have been shown to reduce the risk of of cardiovascular disease as well as several cancer types, including breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate cancers, and so researchers expect to see human studies that confirm the anti-cancer benefits of cucumbers in the everyday diet.  Cucumbers also contain anti-inflammatory chemicals.

Growing cucumbers

In Sweden cucumbers are normally grown under glass in a greenhouse or under a cloche.  This can be a little tricky as they need regular watering and feeding, tying and stopping, protecting from pests and the right level of humidity.

In the UK it is normally better to grow them outdoors as there is much less work involved and the outdoor varieties are now normally very good.  However, the soil must be well drained, rich in humus and in a sunny spot with protection from cold winds as cucumbers are neither hardy or long-suffering.  That said, provided the conditions are right, they are fairly easy to grow outdoors and a homegrown cucumber will taste so much better than a plastic sarcophagi from the supermarket so do try growing them if you have a sheltered space to spare.

John Duxbury

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That irst recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’. The first recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’. The first recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’. The first recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’. The first recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’. SwedesSwedes