Cucumber Sandwiches: England’s Most Upper Class Foodstuff, I Say

Cucumber sandwich with white bread.
Huzzah!

The tea sandwich is a British foodstuff staple like many others (such as scotch eggs). And it often takes the form of having cucumbers in it.

Why? Tradition! Stiff upper lip! Tally, bally ho! So get your napkins at the ready and let’s do this!

What is a Cucumber Sandwich?

It involves thin slices of cucumber between crustless white bread, which is lightly buttered.

Hailing from mighty Blighty (the best planet on Earth), the dish is often thought of as a light lunch or snack with some afternoon tea.

In England, the dish has a lot of symbolic national status. Particularly in the world of cricket, where it’s often served during a tea break during matches.

So, it’s like a summer type treat, really, although the dish is more commonly associated with high society—aristocracy.

Think of a rare sunny day watching the cricket, taking a spot of tea for lunch, and indulging in polite conversation about doilies.

All whilst the dainty sandwiches are lined up (kind of like boiled egg and soldiers) on some fine, clinky china.

Whereas the scumbag proletariats will indulge in a meat pie, shout abuse at a football match, get wasted, then go on a riot. Welcome to England!

What’s the History of Cucumber Sandwiches?

Cucumbers probably came out of India and are even mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8).

By the 1300s the vegetable was in England, coming over here and taking our jobs, and ruining society. Bah!

And at some point in Victorian times, when crinoline was such a big deal, someone put cucumber on some white bread and enjoyed it very much.

In England, afternoon tea became a big deal around 1840. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, used this concept as a snack before her big dinner.

Back in those days, dinner was served at 8 pm for the upper echelons of society (says a lot about us, we eat at 5 pm).

And cucumber sandwiches were very much the indication of wealth. This is partly as cucumbers were pretty difficult to come by all year round.

The dish was even served at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

There’s even a major part of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) dedicated to the recipe.

In the play, food is a symbol of excess and privilege. Algernon (always going to be posh with a name like that!) can’t stop eating cucumber sandwiches.

The character Jack says to Algernon:

“Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?”

Seriously, the dish takes up a significant chunk of Wilde’s play and the characters discuss it with wild abandon.

“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. [Goes out]

Algernon. I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money.”

This manic fascination was covered in various adaptations of the play, one starring Colin Firth.

So, this topic ties in with our recent article on raising a pinky when drinking.

You can imagine it. Some posh British person in 1840 sipping from a fine china cup, pinky aloft, before chowing down on the exquisite cucumber dish.

During the Edwardian era (1901-1910), there was a manic lust for sandwiches like never before seen.

However, these days the dish has less of a fanatical following.

Partially due to cucumbers now being viewed as “normal” as they’re so readily available. So even the scumbag working classes can get stuck in with them.

This means, over 100 years on from cucumber sandwich mania, it’s gone from an upper class staple to just your bog-standard dish.

Globalisation, eh? We have capitalism to thank for the proliferation of sandwiches.

How to Make Cucumber Sandwiches

If you really need help with such a basic recipe, there’s the cool lady above to help you out.

Really, what you need is as follows:

A cucumber

Bread

Some sort of filler

Our take on this is to use wholemeal bread (as it’s just far superior), leave the crusts on, and use a houmous filler.

And there we go. Simple. Healthy. And rather enjoyable. Eating this recipe will make you half British, so you’ll need to update your passport aftwards.

22 comments

  1. We have those sandwiches here, New Zealand being more British than Britain and all that, by jove. Well, it was before we decided to go all American, anyway. What I want to know is whether there were any cucumber sandwiches in the handbag Jack was accidentally abandoned in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I say! They are rather tasty, of course, just with an odd history of aristocracy. But! More than likely on Jack. I should imagine Oscar Wilde was dining on dozens of cucumber sandwiches every day whilst typing that play out.

      Liked by 1 person

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