I’d heard the jokes. I knew that zucchinis proliferate like rabbits (well, not exactly like rabbits). Still, I didn’t think it would hurt to put half a dozen seeds into the ground.
This, despite the $28 tomato I grew years ago when I was renting a tiny garage apartment on a small farm. I had just moved to the North Carolina mountains from inner-city Washington, D.C., and I was oblivious to water and sun requirements, to the truths of worms and mold. I bought plants, cages, and fertilizer, I watered and weeded—and got one tomato out of the whole deal.
I harvested this priceless fruit of my labor the day before I discovered one of the farm’s goats devouring my raspberry bushes, which were a gift from a dear friend. I remember muttering “I can’t grow anything” as I walked inside. But I was wrong. That same day I discovered a few toadstools growing in the bathroom, in the crack between the tub and the linoleum floor. And if mildew were a cash crop, I’d be rolling in dough by now, here in these moist mountains.
My Dad, who was an accomplished backyard gardener, had no tomato woes. A bumper crop one year led to his experimentation with homemade ketchup—which turned out to be so vile that my Mom flushed a quart of it down the toilet every time he left town on a business trip. I have a few less-than-pleasant memories of the hours my sisters and I spent capping and snapping green beans. But corn was another matter. One of the great joys of August was watching Mom get a pot of water boiling on the stove while Dad headed to the backyard after work to pick corn. Silver Queen ears didn’t get any fresher or sweeter than that.
So, about a decade after my tomato fiasco, I planted a few rows of corn. I did my homework this time. A few neighbors gently told me that it didn’t really matter if the seeds produced—the raccoons would eat every ear before I ever got a taste anyway. But one kindly shared his secret for keeping the critters away: tongue depressors slathered with mentholated muscle cream, spaced a foot apart all around the perimeter of my plot. Who knew? It worked.
Heady with that success, this year Bill and I decided to turn the one sunny spot of land we have down by our creek into a garden. We live between a cattle pasture and a horse farm, with generous neighbors, so fertilizer is abundant and free. I planted a few lilies, gladiolas, and irises, my Mom’s favorite flowers. And we put in some spinach, kale, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, pumpkins, yellow squash, basil, and rosemary.
Oh, and zucchini. The vines are heading toward Main Street and are about to take over our little town. I picture them strangling the books in the public library and depositing zucchinis in the mailboxes at the post office. They grow at an alarming rate. Two days ago, one zucchini was a little speck of a thing swallowing the last of its blossom; today it is 17 inches long and a foot in circumference. Bill suggested we should sit among the vines some night with flashlights and watch them grow—we wouldn’t even need time-lapse photography.
We’ve unloaded zucchinis on our neighbors and friends. I bartered some for a massage. We’ve sliced and grilled them, diced and added them into stir-fries, grated them into pizza crusts. I’ve baked tasty Parmesan Zucchini Fries and a luscious Zucchini Chocolate Cake that was a big hit at a recent potluck.
I bought a spiralizer, a gizmo that turns zucchinis into noodle-like ribbons—or “zoodles,” as the perky, wannabe chefs online call them—and mixed homemade pesto into them. Last week I scooped out some of the relentless vegetables and inserted chopped tomatoes, cheese, and spices to create Zucchini Enchilada Boats—more like Zucchini Enchilada Freighters, or Supertankers, or Aircraft Carriers. And this week’s experiment involves slicing zucchinis into thin strips and using them like noodles in a lasagna. Someday this will end.
But beware, the spaghetti squash are just getting started.