A cool cucumber has many uses. A warm cucumber only inspires one.
Old American West Proverb
The origin of this proverb can be traced back to an early homesteaders settlement in Oregon. Not generally a popular seed to be transported by the first settlers due to its tender nature, the cucumber was, for some unknown reason, carried in large volume by a particular group of settlers in 1845 or 1846.
Due to the extremes of weather they found in their new territory, the first few seasons’ crops were not successful but eventually experience led to great success with growing this vegetable. Unfortunately an archaic attitude1 towards raw vegetables, and the cucumber in particular, made the admittedly bountiful harvests of these long rubbery vegetables less than desirable in the eyes of their fellow homesteaders.
Many recipes were conceived of to try and create a palatable cooked dish with the increasing plentitude of green shafts, but generally, once excess heat was applied, the stiff vegetables soon collapsed and became mush. Pickling was an option for those who could afford the proper accoutrements, but very often the poor settlers had only what they had ‘on hand’.
Later, when a town had sprung up, some of the womenfolk who were not settlers found they had more time on their hands during the long days and at one local establishment they developed a recipe that involved coating and sautéing cucumber slices in whiskey and fresh farm cream. These tongue pleasers were both expensive and difficult to make and thus generally only found at the saloon or the local house of ill-repute.
Eventually the old wives tale that raw vegetables were unhealthy passed and, as other produce became more plentiful, uncooked cucumber started to appear in more and more dishes. The Creamstick (as the crispy cucumber became known) remained popular, but was generally acknowledged as the only way to cook a cucumber.
With time, the local proverb “A cool cucumber has many uses. A warm cucumber only inspires one” spread to other locations and it origins were mostly forgotten, while the proverb itself came to encompass many meanings depending on its context.
1In the later 17th century, a prejudice developed against uncooked vegetables and fruits. A number of articles in contemporary health publications stated that uncooked plants brought on summer diseases and should be forbidden to children. The cucumber kept this vile reputation for an inordinate period of time: “fit only for consumption by cows,” which some believe is why it gained the name, cowcumber.
Miss Kitty’s Guide to Frontier Hospitality pub. 1887
The Vegetarian’s Handbook of Good Manners pub. 1976