I have picked the last of this summer’s courgettes and pulled up the plants. Although the plants are still flowering gamely, the shortening days and dropping temperatures ensure that little will come of them. Besides, as the growing season wears on, courgettes always seem to suffer from mildew and the once handsome palmate leaves are now mottled, grey, and tattered.
I bought a packet of seed which contained six different varieties – three were the ‘traditional’ baton type, one was round, and two were patty pans. As courgettes are very reliable germinators, I soon had more plants than ground in which to grow them, and as each plant can reach over 1m/3′ across, it is very easy to run out of space. I gave away as many plants as I could, then resorted to planting the spares in the flowerbeds. If life is willing, it seems wrong not to help it thrive. I chose my packet of seed for the varieties of colour and form, but my understanding was slight. Each type matured at a different rate and fruited with variable generosity. ‘Ronde de Nice’ fruited quickly and abundantly, but ended before the others. ‘Yellow Scallop’ was slow and shy and clearly needed an earlier start, more heat, or a balmier autumn. In another season with different conditions, the varieties might perform differently, but that is the virtue of diversity – there will be a harvest.
The abundance of plants quickly turned into a glut of berries, which is what courgettes are, botanically speaking. The ‘pepo’ in the name refers to a berry formed from the swollen ovary of the flower. In the kitchen, I settle all fruit-vegetable distinctions by the Yorkshire method: fruit can be eaten with custard. Courgettes became a twice-daily feature of my diet and I scoured my recipe books for new ways of preparing them. A favourite has been from the Moro cookbook and involves sautéing them with onion, pine nuts, and raisins – simple yet delicious. Still, the supply outstripped demand and I have adapted chutney recipes to include more courgettes. The freezer is filled with variations on ratatouille which will bring memories of summer sun through the dark, cold days of winter. I even became a courgette pest, badgering friends, neighbours, tradesmen who came to work at the house to take courgettes away with them, and still there have been too many.
And yet, this week or next week, when I have eaten or processed this final picking of courgettes, I will miss them. Cucurbita pepo, courgettes, zucchini, originate in the Americas, as do tomatoes, potatoes and chillies, and although exotic, they have become such an essential part of my diet and of my English vegetable garden, that summer would not be the same without them.