"A cucumber should be well sliced and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing"
--Samuel Johnson, as recorded in James Boswell's Tour in the Hebrides

'Tis not her coldness, father,
That chills my laboring breast;
It's that confounded cucumber
I've eat and can't digest."
--R. H. Barham's "Thomas Ingoldsby" (1837)

"To see cucumbers in a dream denotes that you will speedily fall in love. Or, if you are in love, then you will marry the object of your affection."
--Richard Folkard in Plant Lore (1884)

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(Cucuma sativus)

Scientific tests demonstrate that "cool as a cucumber" is precisely 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the outside air on a warm day.

Cucumbers are relatives of the Persian muskmelon. They probably originated in India, then also spread west--and are one of the few vegetables mentioned in the Bible. In Numbers 11:5, the children of Israel "remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks and the onions, and the garlick." And, in Isaiah 1:8, the prophet describes the state of Israel as "the daughter of Zion...left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."

In Manicheanism--a religion born in Babylon in the 3rd century that sought the release of Light (good) from the Darkness (evil) of matter--cucumbers and melons were thought to contain very high concentrations of Light, and the holy, abstemious Elect of the religion had the power to release this Light by eating them and belching out their Light particles.

Once established, cucumbers remained popular. The emperor Tiberias demanded that they be forced and grown out of season for his table.

Columbus thought to bring cucumber seeds to Haiti in 1494 to plant them in the New World. They must have spread fast. The French found them growing in what is now Montreal in 1535. And Spanish explorer Hernando de Sota found them growing in 1539 in what is now Florida.

In the 1920s, Sir Compton MacKenzie described a typical English tea party as follows: "You are offered a piece of bread and butter that feels like a damp handkerchief and sometimes, when cucumber is added to it, like a wet one."

On the other hand, Ulysses S. Grant, soldier and U.S. President, was so passionate about them that he often made a complete meal of nothing but sliced cucumbers and coffee.

Here is a wonderful poem by Nazim Hikmet, 20th century Turkish poet, banned in his own country for 30 years, freezing in Moscow at the end of his life:

The Cucumber

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and still coming down hard:
it hasn't let up all morning.
We're in the kitchen.
On the table, on the oilcloth, spring--
on the table, there's a very tender young cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
We sit around the table staring at it.
It softly lights up our faces
and the very air smells fresh.
We sit around the table staring at it
as if in a dream.
On the table, on the oilcloth, hope--
on the table, beautiful days,
a cloud seeded with a green sun,
an emerald crowd impatient and on its way,
loves blooming openly--
on the table, there on the oilcloth, a very tender young cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and coming down hard.
It hasn't let up all morning.

(March 1960; translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)