Saturday we planted cucumber seeds, 2 at a time, in 2-foot intervals along either side of the compost bins. We waited till now because cucumbers don’t like cool soil. They are not as finicky as tomatoes and eggplants, the prima donnas that go in next week, but they are real pansies compared, say, to radishes and peas.
Back 120 years ago, cucumbers were a luxury vegetable, served mostly in high-priced hotels like the Parker House over in Boston. At that time, Arlington was the cucumber capital of the United States. It was home to the country’s most famous slicing cucumber, the Arlington White Spine, a great- great-grandchild of which we have just planted here.
Arlington farmers grew cukes during the winter months and early spring in greenhouses, where they kept the soil and the air warm with a combination of steam boilers and daily infusions of horse manure from carriage operators over in Cambridge.
Off-season, for special events, Arlington cukes fetched as much $1 each from wealthy Bostonians. During the summer months they could still get as much as 40 cents each. (To convert those prices into reasonable estimates in today’s dollars, multiply by 22. That’s the Consumer Price Index multiplier for 1913, the first year for which the index was established.)
Eventually the Arlington White Spine fell out of favor as a retail cucumber, though it still goes strong as a breeder. How it lost its position in grocery stores is a long story, one we’ll tell you later sometime. As a breeder, however, Arlington White Spine remains the Man ‘o War of slicers, claiming more direct descendents than almost any other rival.