Today, June 15 …
We recently discussed the legislation that determined, in the face of botanical evidence to the contrary, that the tomato was a vegetable. At least actual evidence can be refuted. What is a committee to do when it has to determine the acceptable degree of bend for a cucumber to be a good quality cucumber? Personal preference is impossible to refute.
An EEC committee rose to the challenge however, and on this day in 1988 agreed on Regulation NO. 1677/88, which stated that cucumbers must be “well shaped and practically straight”, with a Class I quality having a maximum arc of curvature of 10mm per 10cm length. How many hours of agonising debate and deliberation did that decision take?
Of course, not everyone would agree that cucumbers are worth any effort at all. Dr Samuel Johnson is famously quoted as saying “A cucumber should be well sliced and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing”, and Samuel Pepys was convinced that one of his friends died from eating “cowcumbers”.
Nice straight cucumbers would work best for today's dish, albeit it is from the blissful days when no-one usually had to worry how bendy they were. Even Samuel Johnson might have found them acceptable this way.
From William Salmon’s “The Family Dictionary: or, household companion” (1705)
Cowcumbers, to Pickle in the likeness of Mangoes.
Take large Cowcumbers, but not too ripe, nor the seeds grown hard, cut off about one Inch at the Stalk end, and with a Scoop take out the Seeds, and let the substance remain as thick as you can; then make Brine of Pump-water, and Salt so strong as an Egg may swim [float] therein, in which put your Cowcumbers, and let them continue there 48 Hours, cover’d close, and take them out and dry them with a coarse Cloth, put as much Vinegar as will cover them. To one Gallon of Vinegar put half a pint of Mustard-Seed half bruised, Salt according to your Pallate, boil altogether for Pickle; into each Cowcumber put two or three bits of Horseradish of the bigness of a Dye, and one Shallot, with two or three whole Corns of Jamaica-Pepper, then stop them in with the piece of Cowcumber you cut off at the end: lay your Cowcumbers in smooth and handsome in the Vessel you pickle them in, and pour your Pickle boiling hot upon them, stopping or tying them up very close; boil your Pickle every other day for twelve days, pouring it boiling hot upon them, and afterwards once in three Weeks, boil and pour it in hot as before, and by keeping them stopt close they will hold good a Year.
Tomorrow: Bloomsday Breakfast.
Quotation for the Day …
At an English tea-party, according to Sir Compton MacKenzie: “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”