Continued from here. No, I didn’t really think I had this much to write about my childhood backyard, either. But I’m not done yet and won’t be with this one.
If the non-creeping garden was dominated by flowers and side dish foods, the creeping garden was dominated by foods large enough to comprise meals.
I call this the creeping garden because where the plants in the other were basically contained to small and controlled beds of land, the plants in this one… well… creeped. Sprawled. Spread and infiltrated to — by the beginning of August and through at least the end of September — take up the whole backyard.
It started with the summer squash and zucchini. Dear God, the zucchini. They grew big enough that, were my sister and I so inclined, we could probably substitute one as a bat with which to play baseball. I mean, it wouldn’t have been regulation or anything, but the zucchini would have done the job. I used to think zucchini this size were par for the course. Moving to Arizona — where most zucchini would easily slip inside a paper towel tube — was something of a shock in this respect.
But it also meant that we had to learn to eat zucchini in new and inventive ways. Zucchini sliced raw and in salads, yes. Zucchini steamed or sauteed as a side, of course. And the ubiquitous zucchini bread — because it could be prepared in quantity, because it could be given away, because it could be frozen. I have to admit, my father did gain a certain satisfaction from thawing a few loaves of zucchini bread to take to his office Christmas party each year. Me, I preferred the standard Christmas cookies.
Additionally, there were all the “weird” ways to eat zucchini, the ones that got strange looks from my friends when I mentioned them — “You eat that?” Um, yes. When zucchini is what is in the house (or yard) for food, zucchini is what I eat:
- Zucchini fries — Just what it sounds like, and no complaints from me. Often served as a side in place of something like chips or French fries. PS — Fresh lake perch and fried zucchini “fish and chips”? 100% awesome.
- Zucchini salsa — A pico de gallo with zucchini thrown in. Given that we made our salsas spicy, this was clearly a way of disguising the zucchini with chilis, which it more or less did.
- Zucchini pie — Which was really more like a quiche. Not my favorite.
- Zucchini pancakes — A lot like potato pancakes, except done with zucchini. That said, while zucchini was a fine substitute for potatoes in the fries recipe above, it did not do so well to make its own pancakes. (Though I’ve since found some other recipes where zucchini is one of several vegetable ingredients. That seems to work better.)
- Stuffed zucchini — Zucchini with the seeds hollowed out, then stuffed with a mixture of whatever Dad felt like trying at the time. Rice was a staple, often combined with beans and/or some type of ground meat. Occasionally, he mixed in tomatoes, onion, or bell pepper. Once, he thought it would be interesting to try shrimp. “Interesting,” yes. Edible, less so.
The same was more or less true of the other gourd-type vegetables: summer squash, acorn squash, pumpkins — though Dad didn’t necessarily plant all varieties every year. Zucchini, however, was a staple.
And the raspberries. Loard, I am afraid to even get started on the raspberries. On the plus side, their sweetness was more naturally appealing to my younger palate, so there was less coaxing necessary to get me to eat them. Also, that raspberries are often used in the creation of sauces and desserts — parts of a meal that are more readily turned down without resulting in hunger — didn’t hurt matters.
What did hurt, however, was the thorns. What itched were the mosquito bites. What I remember most about the raspberries was the patch itself, the intricacies of easing myself into it — because raspberries refuse to grow in rows — to get at as many ripe berries as I could while minimizing the damage to myself.
At first, Dad was also concerned with me minimizing the damage to the plants as well, concerned I’d step on one and crush it. Eventually, however, he realized — we all realized — that there is no fucking way to kill raspberry plants. Seriously. You can spray weed killer at the roots, you can till the soil to break up the runners — and I swear, as you are doing it, you can hear the plants fucking laughing at you.
So then Dad was like, “That one, over there. Step on it a little harder.”