West Indian Gherkins

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

Has anyone grown these? I haven't, but I'm thinking of planting them this year to make a whole bunch of heirloom-type small pickles. They're pretty obscure - they're not a cucumber and they won't cross with cucumbers, they're an entirely different species in the gourd family.

I've done some reading and watched a video - West Indian Gherkins were thought for years to have come from Jamaica (hence the name), but it turns out they're native to west Africa. They were introduced to the U.S. about 1793, and they were grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

PlantFiles here has little information about them, just the following note posted in 2007 by berrygirl, who says:

► SSE provides this description: "Large vines with distinctive looking leaves, more like watermelon than a cucumber. Large crop of oval fruits 2-3" long and 1 1/2 in diameter. Distinct flavor, used for making small pickles or relish. Very drought tolerant. This variety dates back to at least the 1790's. 60-65 days." ◄

Does anyone here have experience growing and/or pickling these? How were the pickles? Thanks.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

Never tried them, My father knew someone in his youth (1920) that pickled them. Said they looked like pickled mice and he would not eat them. Image stuck with me, so I never tried them either.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I can see why you wouldn't want to eat them if the "tails" were left on!

Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"Said they looked like pickled mice and he would not eat them."

Farmerdill, I spilled my glass of ice water when I read that! Now I've got to try them.

I'm thinking that since gherkins were being grown and pickled in this country over 200 years ago, there are probably good reasons that they're now so obscure and we don't see real gherkin pickles for sale in the markets. We don't wash clothes by beating them on flat rocks at the creek anymore, either. LOL

The pickles now labeled as gherkins are, of course, made from small 'cukes instead.

I'll plant plenty of cucumbers so I don't have to depend on liking the gherkins, and I'll try a couple of gherkin vines in a corner of the garden. If I really hate 'em, they'll go in the compost pile.

Has anybody here actually grown West Indian Gherkins? They're in several seed catalogs, so I figured someone would have.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Ok, I thought gherkins were a type of pickles made out of cucumbers! Please elaborate/elucidate.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

carrielamont, You're right, I think the term "gherkin" has come to mean pickles made from small cucumbers. Also there are 'French gherkins', some varieties of knobby small 'cukes developed for pickling whole, so the terms are confusing.

The plant I'm asking about, though, is the West Indian Gherkin, a.k.a. Burr Gherkin (Cucumis anguria). It's not a cucumber, they won't cross, and over time this species has been almost replaced in pickle-making by cucumbers, though the "gherkin" name has carried on - now meaning small, whole pickles in general.

I suspect there's a reason cucumbers replaced the original gherkins in the pickle trade. The 'cukes probably make better pickles - otherwise supermarket shelves would be filled with jars of pickled Burr Gherkins instead of pickled cucumbers. But I'm going to grow some gherkins this year and find out.

We know that decisions in the food industry are often made for reasons other than quality (ability to be machine harvested, don't bruise, stay fresh during transport and storage, get ready all at once for efficient harvest, etc.). Maybe that's the case here, or maybe cucumbers just plain make better pickles - we'll see.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

That is surely true. I wouldn't be surprised if cukes were better shaped for dill pickle jars, although now they make pickles in flat strips to put on a sandwich.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Ozark, how cool! I remember reading about these in Mother Earth News some time ago. They looked like fun but I forgot about them. I think you can use them in other ways than pickling. I have grown the French Gherkins and they are fun to pickle.

Gymgirl, did you grow those in the photo. They do look like mice!

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

No, Terri! I googled that pic for the "mice" effect, LOL!


This message was edited May 5, 2014 6:19 AM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

landsmil01 - You're the first person I've heard from who has actually grown them. Since I'm determined to try West Indian Burr Gherkins in this year's garden, I'm glad you liked them well enough to grow them again.

How did you use them? Did you make pickles? How easy are they to grow, and what is the flavor like as compared to 'cukes? Do tell, please. :>)


This message was edited May 5, 2014 6:19 AM

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Wow, landsmil01. I will second the thank you on the good information!

Where did you get your seed?

I think I may have just been enabled into an impulse seed buy LOL!


This message was edited May 5, 2014 6:19 AM

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

landsmil01 - Thanks for the info! That's just what I was wanting to know.

terri_emory - Baker Creek Seeds has them listed, and that's where I intend to order my Gherkin seeds from. I also buy Stewart's Zeebest (GREAT!) Okra seeds there, as well as Beit Alpha (WONDERFUL!) cukes, which I wouldn't go a season without growing. I only get a few things from Baker Creek, but those few are ones we really like.

I'd better get my order in - I hope they're not out of anything.



This message was edited May 5, 2014 6:21 AM

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Oh. yes, Landsmill, we use Dmail a lot. I kept in touch with one lady via Dmail for 6-7 years, and I have other friends that I dmail frequently too.

But a $20 subscription to DavesGarden is worth every penny, I think.


This message was edited May 5, 2014 6:20 AM

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

OK, I looked it up and for those of you wanting to qrow the West Indian gherkins the plant family for rotation purposes would be squash/cucurbit family. I'm trying to stick to the family/rotational thing but it is hard for me to resist sticking if few lettuce here and some marigold there. Sigh...

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Terri, so what is the rotational thing you're talking about? I thought you were supposed to avoid growing the same thing in the same place over and over, but surely a little lettuce couldn't hurt anybody?

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

OK, I'm just trying out this rotational method. You rotate your crops according to family groupings of vegetables such that the same family one bed or group of beds and then the next year the whole family moves to a new bed and is not rotated back to the first bed for three years. http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/12768/crop-rotation-technique-1-rotating-plant-families

I haven't got this down pat in my mind yet, but am trying to learn it as it makes sense to me.

And yes, the lettuce crammed in here and there is one of the reasons I don't have this method set in my little brain quite yet LOL!

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Interesting, really interesting. Thanks!

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

A better explanation is here: http://lubbocktx.tamu.edu/horticulture/docs/vegrote.html

Iasi, Romania

Very interesting and useful tips.I read step by step this informations and help me very much.Thank you very much for this informations!
jocuri ben

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I've got some "Miniature White" cucumber seeds coming - Johnny's Selected Seeds has them on sale right now for $1, so I added a pack to my order of sweet corn and other seeds.

Boy, look at the rave reviews for "Miniature White" cukes in PlantFiles! They're early, prolific, and they're picked very small for eating fresh or pickling - no peeling needed.

Now I'm thinking about making mixed quart jars of pickles - little West Indian Burr Gherkins (Farmerdill's "pickled mice", hah!), little Miniature White Cucumbers, and some strips of ripe, red sweet pepper like Carmen. Pretty jars, and GOOD pickles, I betcha.

Red, White, and Green = Mexican Flag Pickles! :>)

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

That is too funny!

Phoenix, AZ

Growing these this year - because the STUPID seed seller sent me burr gherkins instead of mouse melons (mexican sour gherkins) - both have the common name "cucamelon" and they weren't careful with the order or maybe when they were producing seeds.

Cucumis anguria = Burr Gherkins
Melothria scabra = Mexican sour gherkins

Easy to grow, rampant vining, but mine are SPINY ... really, really spiny and not with the supposed soft pointy things. They have annoying spiny fruits that poke holes in me and in each other and anything else in the basket. Thatís probably why they lost out as commercial product -too hard to harvest.

Not going to grow them again.

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