A few days ago, I texted my friend Amanda (side note: a captain on U Maine’s cheerleading squad in the 1980s), and asked her how her famous gardens were doing, specifically her zucchini.
Her answer back was telling: “I don’t do zukes because there are always fools like you growing them, and giving them away.”
Amanda was on to something: in the Midwest, for example, there’s a saying about summer squash. If you don’t have some in your kitchen, then you must not have any friends, either.
That’s because almost everyone out there has a garden that churns out veggies in oppressive heat – especially squash and its green cousin, zucchini.
There’s something to what the folks in the heartland are talking about. When I lived in Kansas, gardens abounded in my neighborhood. There was one point in the summer when you knew the crops had exploded. Baskets full of giveaways started appearing at work, in lobbies, and at your front door.
In fact, as someone who didn’t have a garden (back then), but apparently possessed innumerable friends, squash seemed to be ubiquitous. So much so that when I gave away a particularly handsome specimen (it had been given to me earlier) with a very distinctive shape and inch-long diagonal slice, it ended up back on my front porch four days later – having made its way across town and back to the ‘hood.
That summer, I was fortunate to have Mom around. A year after my father had passed away, her visits began to last longer.
So I seized the opportunity to recycle some of those donations into culinary delights: Zucchini bread, summer squash pie, banana-zucchini bread, and squash-feta pie, to name a few. Also, not one meal was prepared or salad cut without both of those offerings sliced up and thrown in for good measure.
If that didn’t seem amazing enough, the Midwest might not have a corner on all such gastronomic excitement. This spring, friends contributed a bunch of seeds to help revive our New England garden. For some reason, far too many of them made it into the ground, and that’s when the fun started.
Anyone who has tended a garden knows that the first rule of squash and zucchini growing is that you’ve got to get out there every day to pick new items or you will end up with football sized vegetables, or larger.
There are several problems with these ogres.
First and foremost, they just don’t taste as good as their smaller partners, due to excessive seeds. Next, they are susceptible to mealiness when cooked; all that moist pulp isn’t drying up anytime soon, just getting mushy. Finally – and there’s no polite way to say this, but – well, some of them just look obscene.
The scatological comments I’ve heard from both genders on the subject (mostly when each thinks the other isn’t tuned in) is enough to make anyone blush.
Unfortunately, this summer I’ve been very lax. The result has been more squash than I can possibly give away, and zaftig zucchinis that evoke yelps and head shakes from my friends and neighbors – all while I’m giving them a sales pitch for how many delicious loaves of bread they can bake with just one gimongous appendage.
Maybe my old Midwestern buddies were dumb as foxes. They passed around the squash, as well as some of the baked goods made from these monsters, so one wonders when they consumed anything.
Years later, I can empathize with their methodology: Keep handing off the football until it has to end up in someone’s equipment locker, a.k.a. the compost heap. And that’s not even counting what’s happening now: after a wet and humid summer, a bumper crop of tomatoes is rearing its head.
Given the volume of green globes on those vines, I’m praying for cooler nights in about a month to slow them down.
Either that or I might have to open a pizza joint featuring zukes as the main topping, and invite over all those friends that haven’t gone into hiding.
Telly Halkias is a national-award winning newspaper columnist.
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