How The Victorian Era Brought About Cucumber Sandwiches

The cucumber, much-loved for its refreshing and thirst-quenching taste, has been enjoyed worldwide for at least three millennia. Cucumbers originated in India, writes the University of Illinois, though they quickly spread to China, the Middle East, and Europe. Even the Bible references cucumbers as a part of Egyptian cuisine, says the University of Missouri. The Roman Emperor Tiberius loved cucumbers to the point that he ate them almost daily. Later, Charlemagne grew cucumbers in Italy around the 9th century. We know that cucumbers traveled to England by the time of the Tudors since King Henry VII's wife Catherine of Aragon enjoyed them as a salad ingredient.

However, cucumbers became a part of the famous sandwich in their land of origin: India. According to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, British colonists in India were looking for foods to help relieve them from the heat. Someone during that time put cucumbers between two slices of bread, and out of that grew a the cucumber sandwich. Cucumber sandwiches traveled back to England and became popular during the Victorian era as a beloved part of high tea.

Cucumber sandwiches were a perfect fit for the Victorian elite

Part of the cucumber sandwich's allure for the Victorian elite was its nutritional value, explains The Guardian. The cucumber sandwich's light and somewhat nutrition-less attributes signaled that the leisurely upper classes didn't need the high-value food of laborers. The lives of the Victorian elite were primarily sedentary, and dainty foods could sustain them. Oscar Wilde's Algernon in "The Importance of Being Earnest" famously orders cucumber sandwiches to be specially prepared for his Aunt Augusta. Still, he eats them all before she arrives, per Des Plains Public Library.

The cucumber sandwich hit peak popularity in the Edwardian era, says Irish Times. Cucumbers could be grown year-round in hothouses fueled by abundant coal supplies and a low-cost workforce.

Still today, cucumber sandwiches carry on as staples of British high tea. Express reports that Queen Elizabeth prefers her cucumber sandwiches with mint to enhance the snack's refreshing effects. For some of the best and most authentic cucumber sandwiches in the world, Taste Atlas recommends the Tea Room at the Brown's Hotel in London.