Sunday, July 3, 2011

English Tea Party: Cucumber Sandwiches

I must confess: I don’t like cucumbers.

I don’t know why I don’t like cucumbers.  They have a very mild flavor and a cool, refreshing quality to them.  They’re a perfectly good vegetable.  I like pickles alright, and I love the smell of cucumber melon lotion.  But plain cucumbers?  Not my thing.  I guess it's one of those great mysteries of the universe.

So months ago, when Julie sent me a blog idea, I was a little hesitant.  She posted on my Facebook wall:
One thing we can make when I'm in California for our bloggy: Mrs. Haversham cake from Great Expectations?
Cucumber Sandwiches from Importance of Being Earnest?

What other epic things can we do?!
I actually totally forgot about the Mrs. Haversham cake until now.  Whoops!  I’m sure we will do that some other time.  In fact, I’ll put it on The List.  But when I saw cucumber sandwiches, I first thought, “Bother.”  But then I remembered The Importance of Being Earnest and thought, “Why not?”  And then we ran with the idea of doing a tea party, Victorian style.  (And now you know all about the birth of our English tea party.)
The reason I thought, “Why not?” was because of the scene from which cucumber sandwiches comes in Earnest.  It’s the very first scene in the play, where we first meet Algernon.  He has had cucumber sandwiches made for his Aunt Augusta, who is coming to his home for tea.  But while he is waiting for her to arrive, he starts eating the sandwiches.  Then when Jack arrives and tries to take a cucumber sandwich from the tray, Algy scolds him.
Algernon: Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches.  They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.  [Takes one and eats it.]
Jack: Well, you have been eating them all the time.
Algernon:  That is quite a different matter.  She is my aunt. (Wilde 2224)
Throughout the entire scene with Jack, Algy is sitting there eating cucumber sandwiches.  He ends up eating all of them. So when Aunt Augusta finally arrives and inquires after the cucumber sandwiches Algy had promised her, Algernon and his servant, Lane, pretend that there had never been any in the first place.

Algernon: [picking up empty plate in horror]   Good heavens!  Lane!  Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?  I ordered them specially.
Lane: [gravely]  There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir.  I went down twice.
Algernon: No cucumbers!
Lane: No, sir.  Not even for ready money.
Algernon: That will do, Lane, thank you.
Lane: Thank you, sir.
Algernon:  I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money. (2228)
Every time I have read/seen this scene, I have always thought three things: 
1) “Algy, you trickster!”
2) “Poor Lane!”
3) “Lane is the coolest servant ever!”

Basically, I love this scene.  A lot.

Anyway, Wilde made such an effort to talk about cucumber sandwiches that when Julie mentioned them, I decided that even though I disliked the main ingredient, I had to try them. 

And let me tell ya:  I’m glad I did!

According to the recipe contributor on, this is the recipe they use for cucumber sandwiches at Queen Elizabeth II’s annual garden party.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but based on how they tasted, I believe her.  There are lots of different variations on how to make a cucumber sandwich, but I figured that if these were fit for the Queen of England, they had to be the best!

Cucumber Sandwiches
1/2 thin English cucumber
4 slices brown bread, sliced
4 slices white bread, sliced
2 ounces fresh butter
1/2-1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 to taste salt and pepper
  1. Peel cucumber and slice in paper-thin rounds. Salt rounds lightly and place in colander for 15 minutes to drain. Press to release water; pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Spread sliced bread with softened butter. Put 2 layers of cucumber slices on bottom slice, sprinkle with finely chopped mint, salt and pepper to taste, and top with another buttered slice. Press lightly with palm of hand.
  3. Cut all crusts off with a sharp knife. Cut sandwiches in half diagonally and then again into quarters.
  4. Serve in alternate rows of brown and white bread sandwiches, points facing up!
Nutrition Facts:

Drain for 15 minutes, to prevent soggy sandwiches

Mmm... Mint.

The final product.  Julie loaded on the butter, which made them delectable!
Long story short, these sandwiches are delicious!  And if I can say that as a cucumber hater, you know they’re good.  They are light and refreshing.  The mint compliments the cucumber so well, and they have just the right amount of salt to accent the flavor and provide a nice contrast to all the sweet things you typically have during teatime.  This was the only thing at our tea party, other than tea, of which I had seconds.  I know, I even surprised myself!

Fun fact about all this:  Did you know that the scene from which I quoted in The Importance of Being Earnest is what made cucumber sandwiches famous?  So the reason the Queen even serves her sandwiches at her garden party is because of Oscar Wilde!  I think it’s cool that a writer can have that much influence.  He has certainly influenced me.  I may actually start liking cucumbers, now!

By the way, are you curious about the difference between an English cucumber and a regular cucumber? 

An English cucumber is very long and thin (the one I bought was well over a foot long).  They are also softer and have fewer seeds.

Regular cucumbers are thick and short (about 5-7 inches long).  They are crispier, have more seeds, and they also have a tendency to be bitter (bleck!).

English cucumbers are more expensive (and they’re shrink wrapped!  Weird...), but there is more of it, and they taste better.  So it’s a judgment call on your part, but if you really want to be legit with your cucumber sandwiches (and you want a great taste), I recommend trying it with English cucumbers at least once.  And don't forget the fresh mint!  That's crucial!

P.S. Have you voted for your preferred Harry Potter treat in the poll on the left sidebar?  All it takes is 2 clicks!

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I've always liked American cucumbers better than English. They seem insipid to me.