May 30

Mint Julep Day

Cool as a Cucumber
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Cucumbers
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"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."

~ James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)

Boswell notwithstanding, there's nothing as cooling as a mint julep on a hot summer day, especially with the fashionable addition of the cooling cucumber garnish to simple syrup, bourbon, shaved ice, and muddled mint. The mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs in association with the Kentucky Derby since 1938 and now appears in many variants, often with cucumber. As opposed to the rustic pickle, the cucumber has enjoyed a special association as a kind of literary shorthand to identify upper-class sensibilities in the form of the cucumber sandwich. Cucumber sandwiches figure prominently in the first act of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, as the cucumber sandwiches that have expressly been ordered and prepared for Lady Bracknell's expected visit, have all been voraciously eaten beforehand by her nephew and host, Algernon Moncrieff. Consequently, Algernon is forced to tell a little lie, with his butler's connivance: namely that "there were no cucumbers in the market this morning... not even for ready money". 🥒

Possibly one of the only vegetable tartans, this beautifully shaded green tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, gives visual cooling relief on a hot summer's day.


The meaning of the phrase "cool as a cucumber" does not really refer to its temperature (although the insides of a cucumber are substantially cooler than ambient temperature). The phrase actually means "to remain calm, assured and composed."  The phrase was first recorded in a poem by the British poet John Gay 'New Song on New Similes' in 1732:  "Cool as a cucumber could see the rest of womankind".


Cucumbers have been the subject of convoluted science, especially during the years of interest and inventions in longitude science, particularly in  the 18th century.    


Jonathan Swift's in his  Gulliver's Travels (1726) satirized this trend when  Gulliver meets a ragged dirty philosopher who 'had been eight Years on a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, which were to be put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement Summers.'


Cucumbers also appear in relation to longitude in a satirical poem from 1732,  A hymn to the Chair: Or, lucubrations, serious and comical, on the use of Chairs, Benches, Forms, Joint-Stools, Three-Legged Stools, and Ducking-Stools.  Among the chairs which the author discusses, he suggests that:

 

'Had we of Archimedes's Lumber,

Enough to make a Chair for Slumber,

We'd find by Lines in a Cucumber

Longitude.'


For a discussion of one of today's more fanciful "scientific" beliefs, that cats are terrified of cucumbers, click the cucumbers! 

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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