This Wednesday Whinge is devoted to growing courgettes, or more specifically in my case, my failure to grow any class of summer squash. I’m fed up listening to celebrity chefs dishing out recipe suggestions on the radio to allotment owners running out of ideas with what to do with this season’s glut. They can all shove their courgettes and that’s the end of it.
At the start of Lockdown I bought some Mr Fothergill courgette seeds because I was told, repeatedly, that they were the easiest thing to grow, one up from cress, which every child of nursery age has grown successfully with a bit of moist kitchen roll and a window sill. The perfect place for a novice like me to start then, I thought cockily to myself. Bill Bryson is always chuntering on about New Englander’s love of ‘zucchinis’, and how they grow them in prolific quantities. Such is their surfeit, they are forced to become ‘guerrilla courgette givers’ sneakily leaving bagfuls on neighbours’ doorsteps under cover of darkness. In small, crime-free villages, people start suddenly locking their cars in July and August, when they nip in to the local shop for fear of a randommer chucking a boxful into their passenger seat before scuttling off.
Thomasina Miers is dishing up ‘Grilled courgutte and mint tart with tahini cream’ this week in the Guardian Feast. The Edible Flower are stuffing their courgette flowers according to a Cypriot recipe, and I’ve come across a Spanish chilled soup as an alternative to gazpacho. But why stop at savoury? One could try a lemon and courgette cake or grate some into a muffin and add a few sultanas. Sounds revolting, but hey ho, better than a pile of mouldy courgettes languishing in the bottom of your fridge drawer.
Well, needless to say, I shall be attempting none of the above as despite my best efforts, following the instructions carefully and planting my seeds 45 cm apart in my containers, I’ve grown a measly three, all of which are stunted and deformed in appearance. Now I’m all for a wonky vegetable, and have been known to deliberately seek out the ‘imperfect peppers’ in Sainsbury’s. But still, you’d need to be a brave one before you’d sink a tooth into one of these fellas. And then, a green fingered friend told me why my efforts may have been thwarted, as a courgette scourge has infected some of this year’s crop. Not so benevolent looking now, are we Mr Fothergill, with your bushy moustache and wide smile. No, like some great vegetable villain, his seeds are out to wreak havoc with your digestive tract, as this bitter tasting strain of ‘curcurbita pepo’ can result in vomiting and diarrhoea. So, 2020 strikes again then. You take up a lovely new hobby, getting outside and embracing the good life, only to find that your lovingly homemade ratatouille could see you hollering to Huey on the white porcelain telephone.
I hunted out my seed packet to see if my seeds were part of the infected batch. And apparently not, so I don’t even have an excuse.
I’m not even going to start on my tomatoes. No mutant seeds there, to the best of my knowledge, only my inability to keep them alive long enough to bear any fruit. I asked an elderly neighbour if he had any suggestions why they looked so ravaged and he shook his head. ‘Overcrowded and insufficient soil’ was his verdict. ‘I’ve a good gardening book I can lend you,’ he said. ‘Looks like you could do with it.’
Great, I thought. So I am to tomatoes what battery farming is to chickens.
I mean, surely if Matt Damon can manage to plant and harvest a bumper crop of potatoes on Mars, for f**k’s sake, I should have been able, with my frequent watering and diligent removal of slugs, to grow more than one radish and a single tiny carrot this summer? I’m wondering if any of it was worth the effort at all. Quite despondent I am.
Please don’t go sending me any pictures of your vegetable patch success stories: it’s all still too raw. It’s as bad as those b******s who went to Donegal last week and filled their timeline with pictures of sensational sunsets and idyllic white sand beaches, when our reality in July was a monsoon in a wooden hut. No, of course I’m not bitter. If you want bitter just try sampling one of the contaminated courgettes I was telling you about…