Native to India (where they are often grated and mixed with yogurt in the cooling dish called raita), cucumbers were brought to North America by the Spanish in the late 1400s and quickly spread throughout the New World. Colonists often pickled cucumbers since this preparation method would preserve them for months. Then in the nineteenth century, recipes cropped up for fried, creamed or even stuffed cucumbers. Cucumbers were also eaten raw in salads, such as this one by French chef and New York Cooking Academy "Professor of Gastronomy" Pierre Blot, taken from his 1867 cookbook Handbook of Practical Cookery:
Salad of Cucumbers - Peel and slice them, then put them in a vessel, salt every layer, and leave thus in a cool place about one hour, drain them dry and then dress them with oil*, vinegar*, salt and pepper; slices of onion may be added, if liked.
* Pierre Blot recommended "pure olive oil" for dressing his salads, which he said should be a pale-yellow-greenish color. (I used extra-virgin). He also said the best vinegar is wine vinegar with tarragon in it, (vinaigre a l’estragon), but it is expensive. Second best is cider vinegar. (I used wine vinegar infused with tarragon.)
The result: A salad that is simple, easy and refreshing, which is no big surprise since cucumbers are among the produce (along with lettuce) that contain the most water (96%), making for a uniquely quenching taste experience, particularly during the hot and humid summer months. In fact, a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Aberdeen Medical School claimed that reaching for a cucumber after finishing an intense workout may hydrate your body twice as effectively as a glass of water.
Salad of Tomatoes - Wash, wipe dry and slice some tomatoes; slice also onions and mix with them, the quantity according to taste; then season with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.
Try both together paired with some grilled chicken or fish, sweet corn and a bottle of crisp white wine for a deliciously fresh summer meal!
Sources: Foodtimeline.org; List of Fruits & Vegetable With a High Water Content (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/list-fruits-vegetable-high-water-content-8958.html)