Have you ever had a cucumber sandwich?
It’s an English tradition that was likely arrived in the U.S. in the 1800s, along with the concept of afternoon tea, a formal light meal, traditionally served at 4 p.m.
The high-class snack, meant to tide over wealthy people who didn’t eat dinner until 8 p.m. or later.
Cucumber sandwiches were served at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, were enjoyed by the Raj of India in the late 1800s, and were referenced in Oscar Wilde’s play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” as a “reckless extravagance” (cucumbers were pricey before they became more available in the Edwardian era).
The traditional cucumber sandwich is composed of paper-thin slices of cucumber (no peel) placed between two thin slices of crustless, lightly buttered bread.
You can make the traditional dainty tea sandwiches (photo #2), smaller canapés, or full-size luncheon sandwiches (some people leave the on the crusts for those).
You can cut the sandwiches into triangles, squares, fingers, circles or other cookie cutter shapes.
Some Americans replaced the butter with cream cheese (the latter invented in 1872 in New York), some leave the peel on the cucumber and some don’t cut the cucumbers paper-thin (egad!).
The English traditionally use bread from a Pullman loaf—a whole loaf sliced thin (photo #5; called pain de mie in France).
There are numerous variations below.
Our personal cucumber sandwich is made on Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Bread, which is available in White and Whole Wheat. We use the best butter (Finlandia, Plugra, Vermont Creamery) and snipped dill, the perfect herb to complement cucumbers.
Other Americanizations include:
Different bread (e.g. brown bread, whole wheat [photo #3])
Smoked salmon and cucumber
Chicken (photo #4), crab, egg or tuna salad and cucumber
IT’S CUCUMBER SANDWICH SEASON
Warmer weather beckons to cool-as-a-cucumber sandwiches for:
Light lunch or snack
Patio or poolside nibbles
CUCUMBER SANDWICH RECIPE
It’s a no-brainer, but we give you the traditional recipe plus ways to modernize it.
First, a note about the cucumbers:
English cucumbers were bred in the U.K. to create a cucumber more desirable for cucumber sandwiches.
It has tender flesh, with a thin, edible peel and tiny or no seeds. Some stores sell it as a burpless cucumber, European cucumber, hothouse cucumber or seedless cucumber.
Cucumbers, thinly sliced
Seasonings (sea salt, freshly-ground pepper, snipped chives, dill, mint, parsley, tarragon)
1. PEEL or score lengthwise the dark green peel of the cucumber. If you have an English cucumber or other thin-skin variety, cut a thin slice and see if you enjoy it with the peel on. You can easily get very thin slices using a
Avocado, thinly sliced
Baby arugula or watercress
Chutney (mixed with mayonnaise for spreadability as needed)
Crunchy sea salt
Dash of Worcestershire sauce in the softened butter
Flavored cream cheese (e.g. mix in finely diced olive, garlic-herb, pimento, mushroom, scallion, smoked salmon)
Hard boiled egg, thinly sliced
Lemon zest in the butter or atop the cucumbers
Lemon sliced paper thin
Sweet onion, thinly sliced
Tomato, thinly sliced
Radish, thinly sliced
Soft cheese: Boursin or other spreadable cheese
Sour cream or creme fraiche (optionally with garlic powder)
DON’T FORGET THE TEA
Any tea goes with cucumber sandwiches; brew your favorite hot or iced tea.
But if you prefer a sauvignon blanc or an IPA, go for it.
Afternoon Tea Party
Iced Tea Party
TEA PARTY IDEAS
 Square-cut cucumber tea sandwiches (photo © JamesPetts | CC-BY-SA-2.0).
 Triangle-cut cucumber tea sandwiches ( photo © B. Hofack | iStock).
 Whole wheat is a better-for-you option (photo © Nata V. Kusidey | iStock).
 Cucumber and chicken salad tea sandwiches sliced in fingers (photo © Olgna | iStock).
 English cucumbers. You can grow your own with seeds from Burpee (photo © Burpee).
 The British use a pullman loaf for their sandwiches (photo © King Arthur Flour).
 Use the best butter you can find (photo © Plugra).