Monday, July 16, 2012


Today I want to talk about cucumbers. My family and friends know that, like Dr Samuel Johnson, I think, "A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." I'm not a fan of the modern, supermarket cucumber with its tough, bitter skin and watery, tasteless flesh and would much prefer to throw it out than add it to a salad.

When I was a child in Papua New Guinea, the cucumbers we bought at the roadside markets or from meris who brought them around in bilums were golden and round, and so sweet that I would eat them like apples. Pliny the Elder apparently reported: "We find it stated, also, by the ancient Greek writers, that the cucumber ought to be propagated from seed that has been steeped a couple of days in milk and honey, this method having the effect of rendering them all the sweeter to the taste." Not sure how that would work, but I wish it did!

Dr Johnson's contemporary, Jonathan Swift, found a use for the maligned vegetable in the research of the Grand Academy visited by Lemuel Gulliver:
The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me "to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers." I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.
 Sunbeams from cucumbers? Might as well find some use for them.

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