Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Cool As A Cucumber

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 27, 2016

Did you know that even in hot weather, cucumbers are about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) cooler on the inside than the air around it is?  Crazy right, but this is absolutely true, and was confirmed (thanks to a scientific study) in 1970.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The study was conducted by James M. Lyons and John K. Raison.  Both the Plant Physiology Unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Food Preservation in Ryde (Australia) in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney (Australia) oversaw this research which was peer-reviewed.What’s more, the American Chemical Society’s own scientists have confirmed that cucumbers regular body temperatures and help to avoid dehydration during heatwaves.  So cucumbers keep you cool and refreshed and hydrated.  Isn’t that amazing?

Cucumbers, it would seem, are very cool indeed.  Guess what else you might not know about cucumbers?  They’re not vegetables.  Cucumbers are fruit!

cucumbers

Historically speaking, cucumbers weren’t always called cucumbers.  Back in the 17th century, they were called cowcumbers and they were to be avoided.  In fact, Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) wrote in his diary on August 22, 1663:

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Sir William Batten (1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer as well as a Surveyor of the Navy.  He was the master and part-owner of Charles of London by 1630, and sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Sir Nicholas Crisp (1598 – 26 February 1666) was an English Royalist who was also a member of Parliament from 1640 to 1641, a member of the Council of Trade beginning in 1660, and was made a baronet a year before his death in 1665.  Beginning in 1625, he invested in a trading company known as “The Guinea Company” and three years later, he became a controlling stock holder.

Back in the 17th century, cucumbers weren’t held in high esteem at all regardless of how one spoke of them.  In fact, in the play “Cupid’s Revenge” by English dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616) and Jacobean playwright John Fletcher  (20 December 1579 – 29 August 1625), cucumbers were used to insult some lovely ladies in their play.

NIFUS:
I do remember it to my Grief,
Young Maids were as cold as Cowcumbers
And much of that Complexion:
Bawds were abolisht; and, to which Misery
It must come again,
There were no Cuckolds.
Well, we had need pray to keep these
Devils from us,
The times grow mischievous.
There he goes, Lord!

SIDE NOTE 4:  The play was written in 1607 or 1608, but was only registered into the Stationers’ Register on 24 April 1615.

Getting back to Samuel Pepys and his diary entry:  Sometime between the horrible pronouncement that cucumbers were responsible for the passing of Mr. Newhouse (and others) in 1663 and today, the idiom cool as a cucumber came into play in a positive way.  But when (and how) did it stop being a felonious fruit to remake itself a good gourd?

The first published version of cool as a cucumber meaning what it does today is found in the poem “A New Song of New Similes” by English poet and dramatist John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732).  John Gay is best remembered for his ballad opera titled, “The Beggar’s Opera” which was first performed on 29 January 1728.   That being said, “A New Song of New Similes” began with these stanzas.

My passion is as mustard strong;
I sit all sober sad;
Drunk as a piper all day long,
Or like a March-hare mad.

Round as a hoop the bumpers flow;
I drink, yet can’t forget her;
For though as drunk as David’s sow
I love her still the better.

Pert as a pear-monger I’d be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

SIDE NOTE 5:  If “The Beggar’s Opera” sounds vaguely familiar to you it may be because it Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill transformed it into “The Threepenny Opera” (originally written as “Die Dreigroschenoper”) in 1928.

People have been as cool as cucumbers since 1732 thanks to John Gay.  That being said, some real life cool as cucumbers criminals are responsible for some humorous moments.  Such moments include one from 2014, when German authorities a shipment of drugs worth $56.28 million USD (€50 million Euros) headed to Iran from Germany.  The drugs were being smuggled in jars of pickles so it could be said that the both the drug smugglers and the drugs found themselves in a pickle.

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