Cucumbers, with their high water content and fresh, cool taste, are one of summer’s staple vegetables.
Cultivated for at least 3,000 years, the cucumber originated from India. It was probably introduced to parts of Europe by the Greeks or Romans. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
According to Pliny the Elder, the Emperor Tiberius had the cucumber on his table daily during both summer and winter. In order to have it available for his table every day of the year, the Romans reportedly used artificial methods of growing, similar to the greenhouse system.
The Romans are also reported to have used cucumbers to treat scorpion bites and bad eyesight, and to scare away mice. Wives longing for children wore them around their waists. They were also carried by midwives, and thrown away when the child was born.
Interestingly, in the late 17th century, a prejudice developed against uncooked vegetables and fruits. A number of articles in contemporary health publications stated that uncooked plants brought on summer diseases and were to be forbidden to children. The cucumber kept this reputation for an inordinate period of time, during which it was thought to be “fit only for consumption by cows”.