A cucumber sandwich might sound bland to some, but Britons absolutely love them! This English staple is usually served as a light snack and almost always made with sliced white bread. In films and plays such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, this elegant sandwich is often used to identify upper-class people. But who came up with the idea of slicing cucumber and putting it in a sandwich?
cool as a cucumber
Cucumbers are an ancient vegetable that have been grown in India for around three thousand years. They were probably brought to Europe by the Romans, and are documented to have been harvested in England since the 14th century. It is said that the 16th-century queen Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, loved to eat them in her salad.
It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that the cucumber sandwich was invented. At the time, India was colonised by Britain but many Britons there had a hard time dealing with the heat. Looking for a refreshing snack, someone decided to put cucumber between two slices of bread, creating the cucumber sandwich. The snack was a massive success, and it soon caught on in England, too.
A POSH SNACK
In Victorian England, cucumber sandwiches were consumed with afternoon tea, when, at around four o’clock, the well-to-do gathered for tea, sandwiches, scones and cake. Victorian elites lived primarily sedentary lives so they didn’t need to eat food with substance, like labourers did. Cucumber sandwiches are quite low-calorie, so they were perfect for them.
In the Edwardian era (from 1901 to 1910), cucumbers were so popular that farmers started growing them all year round in glasshouses. The abundance of cheap labour and coal to heat the glasshouses made the production of cucumbers quite profitable.
UPDATING THE CLASSIC
The classic cucumber sandwich is made with white bread, lightly buttered and with the crustscut off. The cucumber is thinly sliced and salt and lemon juice added. The sandwich is then carefully cut into triangles. Nowadays, there are some other interesting fillings: in the US, cream cheese, mayonnaise, dill and salmon are added, while other combinations include mixed herbs, yoghurt and olive oil. The late Queen Elizabeth II reportedly ate her cucumber sandwiches with mint for an even-more refreshing effect. Whatever your preferences, thought, just make sure not to forget the cucumber!!