Written by David Shields
Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009
Cucumbers, like all vegetables, were invariably cooked until the end of the 18th century, in the belief that heating completed the process of digestion that was only imperfectly performed by the human stomach. The fear of Dyspepsia only dissipated when Scottish physicians redrew human understanding of the digestive process during the Enlightenment.
The 1790s saw the birth of raw vegetable salads as a major component of the table. Cucumbers during the entire 19th century were both cooked and consumed raw. Every American cookbook of any merit included one if not several recipes for fried or sautéed cucumbers for summer menus. The fanciest of these dishes emerged in the south, particularly in Louisiana. With the health fad for raw vegetables that began in the 1890s and culminated in the 1920s, the fried cucumber faded from American cookery, until the recent revival of stir-fried cucumbers prompted by the vegetarian movement. The oriental flavors now favored bear little relation to the rich taste profile of Creole Fried Cucumbers.
Slice 8 middle sized cucumbers, flour them slightly and fry a light brown in a little lard; pour off the lard and add to the cucumbers 4 tablespoonfuls of hot water, 2 of wine, 2 of walnut catsup, pepper, salt, and sliced onion, (if you like it) a lump of butter dipped in flour; stew about 15 minutes. A teaspoonful of mustard is better than the onion.
Christian Women’s Exchange, The Creole Cookery Book (New Orleans: T. H. Thomason, 1885), p. 76