I’m starting to I think I might have made up a good deal of my childhood memories, or at least built them up again from the bits and pieces I’m more sure are real. This is more present for me right now, in the deep summer which seems to do the hard work of memory making. This summer, we have lots of contenders for memory makers, although you never know what will stick: Sadie dropping Rosie off at camp and telling her just how it will be (Rosie’s first year, Sadie’s third). Roadside maple soft serve. Climbing on hay bales, watching the rain pass with the cat sitting patiently under the protection of the porch. Naked sleeping. Naked swimming. Movies in the afternoon. The smells of watermelon and rain and sunblock and mildewed towels, swimsuits that have been left on the floor too long, library books, raspberries on their way out. I imagine each girl will take her own bits and pieces and make up the rest, and those new dreams will be just as real.
When I was little, I spent big chunks of summer with my grandparents, or at least I think I did. Their bed and breakfast was always full of visitors and musicians and artists for the summer, and I’d empty garbage cans and help make beds, although honestly I can’t remember much else. The other day, I had a memory that I couldn’t help but say out loud to Joey right away. There was a neighbor down the street from my grandparents named Pearl, and every time she’d pass the house in her car and break at the stop sign, she’d give a dainty double beep, and my grandmother would raise her hand wherever she was in the house and say “Hi Pearl,” as if they had some secret communication. This happened all the time, at least I think it did, and I’m not sure I ever met Pearl or knew who she was. I think this must be real, but I’ll never know.
My grandfather had a huge garden behind the kitchen that was primarily for the purpose of filling frittatas. Shredded zucchini. Asparagus trimmed on the diagonal. Dill and basil. He’d layer it all four or five inches deep before pouring the egg overtop and baking it in a big rectangular pan, at least I think so. Those frittatas were layered like a green diagram of the crust of the Earth. And between those and the daily loaves of whole-wheat zucchini bread from my grandmother’s oven, I don’t think there was ever a question of what to do with all those hundreds (thousands? I’ll never know) of zucchini and summer squash that grew from each blossom in his garden.
These are the questions I get when I’m refilling the squash and zucchini box at the market: What do you do with all that summer squash and zucchini? What’s the difference between the green, the yellow, and the ones shaped like spaceships? Is there a taste difference between big and little?
All good questions. But the one that goes unasked?
What are your zucchini memories?
I guess that’s a little intimate for a Farmers’ Market transaction. But here, I’ll indulge.
So, of course there is my grandfathers frittata. I say shredded, but I think maybe it was julienned, so that each tiny green-tipped spear had a real shape. I’m no good at a real julienne cut, but if I had paid attention, I’m sure I could have learned from him.
I remember the first time I frittered zucchini. I was with Eilen, and a good friend of hers who was visiting us in Santa Fe, and the visiting friend, dressed nearly just in her thick blonde hair down to her waist, came bearing a few voluptuous and indelicately large specimens. “We will fritter them,” she declared, and we filled the kitchen with oil splatters and ate the hot fritters with our fingers on the stones of the straggly New Mexico backyard. Now, I would make something spicy and creamy to dip them in, but then, just the fritters were enough.
And just last year, or maybe the year before. I’m not sure. Even as recently as that starts to fade! But we were at our dear Luke and India’s farmhouse up near camp, doing camp pick-up or drop-off just like we’ve been taken with these past few weeks now. There was a birthday party for their friend who was visiting, and another friend walked in with what, in name, sounds regular and mundane–just a zucchini cake. But she’d created the most delicate and gently sweet cake around the zucchini, put it in a bundt pan, and then (get ready for this), she candied ribbons of zucchini and layered them like a royal crown on the cake.
There are tiny bursts of other squashes and zucchinis, too. A late night in my kitchen alone while I pickled 15 pounds of the tiniest pattypans, and even by the end I couldn’t get over how cute the damned things were. Zucchini blossoms with ricotta and olive oil, and me, 6 or 7, eating the contents of the entire plate before anyone else could get to them. Plants out of control in the garden that I had to harness and beat back as they pricked me with their thistly stems, sifting flours in the dark kitchen with my grandmother before she plunked the heavy scoop of defrosted grated zucchini from the past summer.
As for the other questions, the ones people do ask,
Mostly, I grill them. I marinate thin slices in a mixture of olive oil, lemon, tamari, and herbs for a few hours, and then Joey grills them and they come to me charred and dripping to be ingredients in other things. I chop them and toss with mint and parmesan, or leftover grains needing rebirth from the refrigerator, or I put them over pasta. This is the treatment of the moment, and I don’t seem to get sick of it. But if I do, I’ll chop them into half moons and fry them with butter and rosemary.
(I know that raw zucchini is a thing, and that’s okay, too. I can’t do it myself. Even sliced thin like pasta or tossed in something wonderful, it sits heavy with me and doesn’t make sense in my mouth. But by all means, go ahead.)
There is a difference between the green and yellow. The yellow tend to be a little more delicate, and the skin stays soft. They should be harvested smaller or they get woody and tasteless. Don’t use the yellow for zucchini bread. I think the yellow is born mostly for herbs, or to be sliced thin over a fish. It will go with whatever you have growing, but especially rosemary, basil, and summer savory.
And the pattypans? They’re my favorite. It’s could be the texture, or the taste–they’re firm and the slightest bit grassy. But mostly it’s the shape, which seems altogether too perfect and strange to slice and eat.
Zucchini season has just really come into full swing here, and of course we can’t know what will come of it. But I think there will be at least a few zucchinis to remember. At least, we’ll do our best, and we’ll see what sticks.