Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Food

Cowcumbers?

crock full of cucumbers and water

cucumber noun variant form cowcumber.
1928 (in 1952 Mathes Tall Tales 72) Bet ol’ Nelse is settin’ on a rock waiting’ as c’am as a cowcumber on ice! 1942 Hall Phonetics 38. 1967 DARE (Gatlinburg TN). 1986 Pederson et al. LAGS 10 of 26 (27.7%) of LAGS speakers using term were from E Tenn. 1997 Andrews Mountain Vittles 39 Soon as the cowcumber—that’s what we mostly call ’em—were big enough to slice momma always had a dishful on the table, along with sliced maters.
[EDD general use in Scot, Irel, Engl; CUD]

—Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


We planted Granny’s garden for her Mother’s Day present. She isn’t able to even get out in it anymore, but I know seeing us work in the garden and getting to eat from it brings her great joy.

Granny said she wanted a lot of cucumbers this year and it reminded me of the dictionary entry for cowcumber.

I’ve never heard a cucumber called a cowcumber—have you?

Tipper

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Tammy Scott
    May 10, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    No, Tipper, I’ve never heard them called cow cumbers (spellcheck won’t even let me type it as one word). I DO love fresh cucumbers chilled and sliced with home-grown maters though. Also, I really love sliced tomatoes (maters) with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      May 10, 2021 at 9:52 pm

      Don’t give in to spellcheck! When it puts that rude red zigzaggedy line under the word all you have to do is right click on the word and choose “Add to Dictionary” and it will leave you alone.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 10, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    Never heard them called cowcumbers. Like everything else in Appalachia a lot of sayings and folklore can revolve around the simplest of everyday things. I always heard a Copperhead was near by if you smelled cucumbers.Another was that cucumber slices would help the delicate tissue around the eyes, and I only saw that done once. As Wanda Devers said “as cool as a cucumber.” My mother made the best cole slaw ever because she always shredded up a lot of cucumbers in it to use up a bountiful crop. It always amazed me how a big ole yellow cucumber could hide no matter how carefully you went through thepatch. Nature’s way of letting them go to seed or providing for the creatures I would imagine. I am so glad Granny has her garden. That was also a major part of my Mother’s life even though she could only string beans. I could see the pleasure in her eyes when I would bring a basket in full of random garden vegetables.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      May 10, 2021 at 10:07 pm

      Mommy made coleslaw with cabbage, cucumbers and chopped tomatoes. She made the dressing with cream, salt and pepper. Maynaze or salad dressing was unknown in our house when I was little but cream rose every day.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    May 10, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    No I have not heard cucumbers call cowcumber. That new to me. Thanks for sharing that one Tipper.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 10, 2021 at 11:37 am

    I haven’t heard that but it brings to mind the saying, “cool as a cucumber”.

    I’m glad Granny will have her garden to see. Mama missed it so much. My brother planted a small one on one of the old spots and finally I planted some squash, etc, in flower beds around her house.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 10, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Never heard them called that but my Grandmother always just called them cukes.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    May 10, 2021 at 10:46 am

    Yes I’ve heard it many times but always in a joking way.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 10, 2021 at 10:36 am

    I’ve heard cowcumber but only in a joking way. Might have said it myself a time or two. I do love cucumbers. They get expensive in the winter but I buy them anyway. I like the little pickling cukes. The bigger ones are OK but they are too much for one meal and after being cut turn to mush very quickly.
    I made pickles last year that were so good that I had them all eat up by the end of October. I’m gonna have to do better this year!

  • Reply
    Shirl
    May 10, 2021 at 9:09 am

    I have heard them called cowcumbers but not in my family. I’m trying the bush variety this year to keep from having so many vines running across the garden.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    May 10, 2021 at 8:50 am

    I have heard it once. In your neck of the woods there is a “cucumber tree” (magnolia acuminata) also called ” mountain magnolia”. It has a green fruit somewhat like a cucumber. The Brasstown Carvers used it frequently because its light buff brown colored wood is perfect for rabbits, deer and other such colored animals. Beside its beauty, it carves almost as easily as butternut. I carved a life-sized cucumber rabbit in Helen Gibson’s class once.

    Now for the rest of the story…In the north Alabama mountains, carvers and saw-millers call the common tree a “cowcumber tree”. Go figure…

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    May 10, 2021 at 8:31 am

    Can’t say that I had heard them called cowcumber until we moved here 42 years ago and the neighbor called them that as what I thought was just one of his jokes but he called them that most of the time and I do also now and again.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 10, 2021 at 8:12 am

    In my neck of the woods growing up, a cowcumber was a cucumber that had gotten missed hiding in the green and had got real big and starting turning yellow. So that was how we cumbered up cows with cucumbers. We had no use for them. About all they were good for was to save seed.

    We also had a wild magnolia we called a cucumber tree because of its seed pods. Turned out though that it was really an “umbrella magnolia” and another tree was actually the “cucumber magnolia”.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    May 10, 2021 at 7:51 am

    I have. But, I thought they were being funny. That’s interesting.

  • Reply
    Larry Eddings
    May 10, 2021 at 7:25 am

    I never have, but I sure do love good fresh cucumbers from the garden.

  • Reply
    Don Tomlinson
    May 10, 2021 at 7:16 am

    I/we have called them that as long as I can remember. As I recall my paternal grandparents called them such so I guess it just trickled down.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 10, 2021 at 7:03 am

    Nope, never heard of a cowcumber, I can’t get any idea in my head about they might come to be called cowcumbers!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    May 10, 2021 at 6:24 am

    Yep….I have……

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