Thoughts on the Zucchini


August 7, 2014 by magpiemenina

Today I am musing about zucchini.

Remind me next year to plant fewer plants.

Are you familiar with the jokes about leaving zucchinis in neighbors’ mailboxes, or on front porches (ringing the bell and then running away)? They are old gardening jokes, but they are oh so true.

The zucchini is a kind of summer squash with (usually) a green outer rind and firm but pliable light green flesh. It grows on a vine with broad leaves and has large orange-yellow blossoms, which are also edible. If I didn’t have access to a grocery store, I would certainly eat the blossoms. Perhaps, out of a desire to have fewer zucchinis, I will eat the blossoms anyway.

The zucchini plant is a marvelous plant. It produces zucchinis in abundance. By abundance, I mean that you will leave them in your neighbors’ mailboxes and on front steps and possibly just feed them straight to the chickens. Zucchini plants are overwhelming in their abundance.

Don’t get me wrong. Having plentiful food is a blessing that I do not take lightly.

Zucchinis are great. You can make pasta out of them (though I haven’t tried), stuff them and stew them, bake them in treats, marinate them, use them in place of cucumbers, fry them, and…well, pretty much whatever you can imagine. Why is the zucchini so versatile? Perhaps it is no more versatile than any other food plant, but the vigor with which it produces drives the gardener to new heights of culinary creativity in an effort to use the zucchinis that come out of their gardens.

With all of the jokes, why do people still plant them? This is my theory: zucchinis are, in my experience, kind and forgiving plants. They offer the gardener hope when other vegetables are struggling to live, let alone fruit. The gardener can point to the zucchini plant with its lush, sprawling foliage, large blossoms, and rapidly ripening fruit and say, “Look how well the zucchinis are doing!” In the meantime, they will think to themselves, “My! Look how well the zucchinis are doing. I don’t have such a brown thumb after all!”

Soon, though, zucchini Armageddon arrives. One day you go out to the garden and there are two or three hand-length zucchinis on the vine. “Oh, how nice,” you think, and you start thinking about what you are going to make when the zucchinis are a little bigger. “Hmm. Maybe I shall use them in this. Or perhaps I should make zucchini bread. Or zucchini chocolate chip cookies. Or maybe I should freeze some. Goodness, there are so many uses for zucchini. I’m afraid I won’t have enough to make all the dishes that I would like to try.” You plan to attempt the dish you decide on in the next few days, after the zucchinis are a bit bigger.

You go out the next day to check on your garden. Those zucchinis are now…the size of bowling pins! Maybe not quite that big, but your shock at their rapid development registers them thus. A week later, there are suddenly three more full grown zucchinis. “I didn’t notice those!” you think. “How did they get so big without me noticing?” Suddenly there are three more. Then four. Then you unload some on some poor, unsuspecting sod because you realize that one zucchini makes four 8×4” loaves of zucchini bread, and your freezer isn’t big enough to hold more than ten loaves or so. Then a lull. You breathe a sigh of relief. You go away for the weekend. You come back and there are FIVE zucchinis bigger than you’ve ever seen, and at least seven or eight growing on the vine. Good heavens, they’ll be fully grown in another two days! What on earth will you do? Thus begins the zucchini panic that grips American gardeners across the nation at this time of year.

Last year, my Fordhook zucchini plants contracted a fatal infestation of squash vine borers. It was pretty gross (and I’m not squeamish), but I was secretly relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the zucchinis any further. When you have other things to can, dry, and freeze, you can’t devote all your time to the generous zucchini.

This year, I grew a different kind of zucchini, Lungo Bianco, an heirloom variety. I like it, but it seems to have escaped, either through luck or natural resistance, the squash vine borers. No such salvation shall come to me this year. That said, it’s nice. It is a lovely plant and the zucchinis have a pale green skin that grates easily and does not need to be removed. It isn’t long and skinny like most zucchini; rather, it is more rounded. The flavor is pleasant but bland (zucchini is sort of like tofu, in my opinion). It sprawls impressively. Unfortunately, it has thorns. (I don’t recall other zucchinis having thorns, but that may be faulty recollection on my part.) I don’t mean rose thorns. I mean small cactus thorns. These thorns are all over, covering the undersides of the leaves, the vines, and the stems. When you get some in your fingers, you can see them sticking in there. Ouch!

My boss has been bringing in zucchinis, giving them to anyone who will take them. She’s resorted to taking them to different business owners downtown. Fortunately, our neighbors didn’t plant a garden this year, and have been willing to take some zucchinis off my hands. That’s the other problem with zucchinis. They grow so well, almost anyone with a garden plants them, meaning there’s a limited pool of people to absorb the excess.

Zucchinis: the vegetable that keeps on giving.

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