Cucumber cool

The temperatures have been hotter than ever this summer so we are in great need of a cool word. How much cooler can you get than cucumber? If we want to be cool, we’ll say we are as cool as a cucumber.

The cucumber is a member of the gourd family, along with melons and squashes, and has been grown for food since the beginning of history.

How cool is a cucumber?

If you believe the Internet, there is an oft-repeated statement that a cucumber can be ten to twenty degrees cooler on the inside than the outside temperature. But we should remain sceptical about this when it is quoted:

… according to scientists who have measured this phenomenon with precisely calibrated vegetable thermometers.

Indeed, if I happened to have a specially-designed, vegetable thermometer (a good old garden variety kind would surely suffice) I would not need to precisely calibrate it to measure a ten-degree difference.

Apart from the obvious technical difficulties for the cucumber in maintaining this cool interior, our suspicion should be raised further: if it were true we would be powering all our air conditioners with Cucumber Factor X.

But even without Factor X cucumbers are a particularly suitable food for hot climates due to their high water content.

Cucumber history

The Old Testament refers to cucumbers being eaten in ancient Egypt by the Israelites. The ancient Egyptians used cucumbers as a source of water while travelling across the desert. Moses may have had a few in his satchel as he led the Israelites out of Egypt.

In the Mediterranean, the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, wanted to eat cucumbers every day and his gardeners worked very hard to supply them to him.

It was likely the Romans introduced them to England where they were known as eorþæppla, or earth-apples (in a similar way that the French refer to potatoes as pomme d’terres, apples of the ground). Perhaps the climate was not warm enough to create a real passion for them because they later became known as cowcumbers, the common explanation being that they were believed only fit for cows. (However, this ignores the source of the English word from the Old French, cocombre, which in turn comes from the Latin, cucumis).

The cucumber, its reputation risen beyond bovine fodder, was brought to Australia by the English on the First Fleet (the Reverend Richard Johnson, grew them in his Sydney garden in 1789). And we have been eating them in the summer ever since.