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Big zucchini and giant mystery gourds

September 25, 2010

This is a public service announcement. You no longer need dread the discovery of Louisville Slugger-scale zucchini. In my humble Cape Cod garden, there are precious few summer squash left; what the vine borers didn’t get to, the powdery mildew tried to finish off. But here and there, under particularly large leaves, giant zucchini are still hiding. If it sounds a spooky scene, it once was.

Years of excess from a continually diminishing zucchini garden left me fearing the inevitable growth of that pile of giants on the kitchen counter. Over the past decade of gardening I’ve tried to plant fewer and fewer zukes, but even a small number of plants can produce a large amount of food, and by the end of the summer no one wants to eat it any more.

It’s not that my clan is a particularly ungrateful lot: big zucchini frustration is a community-wide and maybe national affliction. Griping and groaning about the endless harvest can be overheard at farmer’s markets and coffee shops and post offices all over. Here on Cape Cod, the go-to solution seems to be sweet zucchini bread. As a life-long Cape Codder, a through and through Yankee and a dutiful dog-earer of the Fanny Farmer cookbook, I’ve done my time in the galley with mixing bowls, flour, cinnamon and sugar, and the math just doesn’t add up.

I don’t like bread, and I don’t like sugar, so for me zucchini bread is a lose-lose proposition. I found a recipe in The Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook by Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler that claimed to be less sweet and more spiced, so I gave it a try and it was well-received. The problem was that it called for two cups of grated zucchini for two loaves of bread. Anyone who stacks big zucchini like lengths of cord wood know that two cups equals about one half of a big zuke. At that rate I’d have to pull out a bunch of chickens and a pork butt from the freezer to make room for the frozen abundance of zucchini bread. I’m looking for a reduction in zucchini-related food, not an increase. And besides, most of that product is flour and sugar, and I can think of  better uses for those staples.

I continued my hunt for something different and discovered zucchini Valhalla. The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Specials cookbook offered a “Curried Zucchini Soup.” It seemed pretty straightforward as curries go, with a short ingredients list. No stalks of lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves here, just onions and garlic and ginger and curry powder and a few other things and, of course, zucchini – five cups of it for four to six servings of soup.

The first day we devoured about half the pot with brown rice on the side, with seconds all around, and the second day it had firmed up enough to be served on white rice, and it was much spicier. The soul of a curry is the curry powder or freshly made curry. Whether you make your own or buy, the flavor of the soup will depend on what is in your curry. I bought some muchi curry powder at our local Orleans Whole Food Store and it was very good.

I was so excited, I started thinking I should pick up extra zucchini from produce stands and farmer’s markets before they’re all gone. And, besides, most people don’t want big zukes, so farmers usually sell them for around a buck a piece. I put the word out and my mother delivered a giant from the Orleans farmer’s market – not long after I poked around and found three more monsters hiding in the garden. Who knows, maybe in February when I thaw the third, fifth or seventh batch of this soup I will begin to curse it as I once did the zucchini, but I doubt it.

I’ll include that recipe at the end of this post with the hope that you will try it, like it, and go out and buy that cookbook and all the other Moosewood cookbooks you can get your hands on. While I’m on the subject of squash, and as long as the young ones are sleeping, I might as well tell you about the monster mystery squash that took over my lower garden this summer. I ordered a packet of Tahitian Butternut squash from Pine Tree Garden Seeds for this summer’s garden, but when my package arrived, those seeds were nowhere to be found. Instead, I got a little packet that said it was a replacement for that squash, so I planted it here and there in my raised beds. It grew well and spread like a butternut will, but soon it showed its true colors, reaching far beyond the bounds of my expectations and boasting leaves like elephants’ ears. This was no normal squash.

Yes, that is volunteer cilantro popping up behind this recently discovered fruit.

After 15-feet-or-so of lateral growth, gourds began to appear along the vine’s length. They were shaped like a butternut, but wore a watermelon’s skin and seemed to grow to two-feet in length overnight. Surprised by the sudden appearance of these giants, I went back to my seed tin and searched for the empty packet. (Busy gardeners should always save empty packets.) I found the replacement Pine Tree sent and learned it was a Golden Cushaw. A quick search of my gardening tomes revealed it is also known as “Giant Cushaw”, and “Kushaw.” They reportedly have flesh sweeter than pumpkin and are very good in a pumpkin-style pie. I’ll assume they make a great Tunisian pumpkin stew. They’ve been criticized as being all neck and no belly, with too many seeds, which I hope will roast up nicely. Cushaw is a storing squash, and it is said they keep so well they will last until the next year’s harvest is ready.

The vines are still growing, taking over all kinds of real estate in the garden and threatening the fall plantings of oakleaf lettuce and peas. I have to admire their tenacity. After all the acorn squash, spaghetti squash, crooked neck squash and yellow and green zucchini have faded, this vine has ripened its first fruits and is still reaching new lengths, growing new fruit, popping out new deep-green leaves and producing new flowers. I have no idea when to pick it, but I’ll treat it like a butternut or pumpkin and wait for the vines to die and the frost to sweeten its flesh. Then we’ll cut one open and find out what it’s like. What’s a garden without a little mystery, anyway?

Curried zucchini soup

2 cups diced onions
1 Tbs vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
2 cups cubed potatoes
5 cups sliced zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick half circles (if large peel the zukes and seed them, and cut into 1/4 circles)
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup milk
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbs cider vinegar

In a covered soup pot on medium heat, saute the onions in the oil until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger root, and curry powder and saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add water or stock, potatoes, zucchini, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the cilantro and continue to simmer until the vegetables are very tender, another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the milk and yogurt and remove from the heat; stir in the vinegar. Use a hand held blender to puree the soup to desired consistency or do it in batches in a blender. Reheat gently.

Remember, if you are making some to freeze, exclude the milk, yogurt and vinegar. I like to make a label with instructions for additions after defrosting.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2010 8:03 pm

    Interesting. I would have loved your problem this year. But that other squash is quite interesting and very large. Thanks for the heads up… I may have to check out this seed co.

    • September 25, 2010 9:36 pm

      upinak – Pine Tree is a great company. They have a large variety of vegetable, herb and flower seeds, and they boast of low prices because, in many cases, they include a smaller amount of seeds in a given packet. Most family gardeners don’t grow 50 tomato plants, so why pay for all those seeds? Short of forming a little seed exchange with your neighbors and friends, I think it’s a good way to get what you need for less money. And so far I have had very good success with all the seeds I have ordered from them. Thanks for your comment.

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