I grew up hating zucchini

My mother, God rest her soul, was an amazing woman. It’s a rare week that goes by that I don’t think about some gift she gave me.

But among the things she was not was a cook.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I think the truth of the matter was that she had no sense of food. She loved chocolate. But beyond that, her imagination failed her.

She got married not knowing how to boil an egg. Her mother, a farm wife, was too busy to teach her children. It was easier just to get it done herself. My father’s mother, who was a fabulous cook and ran a famous (in Oregon) cafe for decades, tried to teach her. I’ve heard all of the stories.

But I still have trouble accounting for my mother’s particular deficiency. I don’t think that strictly speaking it was a failure of imagination. She just seemed to have no real sense of what went well with what. For years she made a shrimp and macaroni salad that drew rave reviews. I don’t know where she got the recipe, but I cheerfully stole it. It was one of my favorite dishes.

But I know she didn’t understand what made it good, because one time she decided to make it more elegant and added a can of pineapple. It was inedible.

My mother only knew one way to cook zucchini–she boiled the shit out of it until it was this sort of mush or gruel or something really disgusting. When I was a grown woman (more or less), I moved to San Francisco and discovered that it could be sauteed in olive oil or baked with cheese and bread crumbs or all sorts of other things.

A long time friend (now long time dead), a bachelor guy at the time, taught me to toss it with egg and cracker crumbs and cheddar cheese and onion and throw it in an oven and produce an ambrosial vegetarian main course. I still make Tumwater’s recipe.

I think what brought this on was tonight’s dinner. I threw a couple of chicken breasts rubbed in very good olive oil and sprinkled with lemon pepper onto the barbecue grill. I had picked a head of cauliflower earlier (a week or so ago) and forgot about it in the crisper, so it was borderline. But I made the first quart of dill pickles today, so I had lots of left over brine from brining the cukes. So I brined the cauliflower (not for too long, just a half hour or so), which refreshed it immensely, and then I steamed it.

I sliced a nice zucchini and a nice Sunburst (yellow Peter Pan) squash rather thin and threw them in a frying pan with some of that same good olive oil and a little summer savory and cooked them until they were just tender. They not only tasted terrific, they were very pretty together.

We ate it all.

My mother would have been incapable of this, and I’m still trying to understand why. She made it a point to teach me the basics of cooking, so that I didn’t suffer from the same problems she had dealt with as a new bride. But she never really got food herself, and I never really got it until I left home and found how other people did things.

After he retired, my dad took over the cooking, and he had the same knack his mother did. It was much more fun to go visit after that, at least from a culinary perspective.

One of the things I’m enjoying the most about my new-found free time and my rather fabulous garden this year is the freedom to experiment with food. I’m the spitting image of my father’s grandmother. I seem to have got the right set of genes for this.

Now if I could just be 35 again. . .

10 Responses to “I grew up hating zucchini”

  1. jackiesgarden Says:

    Oh, yeah, I’d like to be 35 again, too! 🙂 I think I fall somewhere between you and your mother. I’m always throwing things together – but every once in awhile, it’s not anything I’d want to eat again!

  2. Marianne Says:

    I’ve only had one spectacular failure. It was edible, but. . .

    I sent my daughter out to pick rosemary for a meatloaf and she picked lavender instead. I have little sense of smell, so I didn’t notice. When it was about half-cooked, she opened the oven and looked and asked, “Mom, why does the meatloaf smell like soap?”

    We ate it, but I’m afrid the leftovers bit the dust (very unusual for meatloaf).

  3. Barbara Says:

    I was lucky, because my grandmother was a professional cook, and my mom learned from her, so I was spoiled by good cooking, but even they used to overcook veggies, and it wasn’t until my generation started helping that Mom figured out a lightly steamed veggie was delicious. Until then I never knew broccoli was edible. I think it was some old precaution people took against food poisoning, boiling things to death.

    No matter who raised you, it takes a lot of imagination to cook well and do it every day. I like to cook, but not everyday, and luckily I found a guy who also likes to, so we share the load. Experiments sometimes don’t turn out as expected, but we’ve learned to experiment more prudently as we’ve gotten older. Mistakes, on the other hand, yeah, we all have those. Even my grandmother did. Some are pretty hilarious. She once accidentally used a can of refied beans to make a pumpkin pie. My older brother ate a whole piece without realizing anything was wrong.

  4. Marianne Says:

    Barbara, on reflection, I think a refried bean pie with pumpkin spice sounds rather interesting. A refried bean pie with chilis, cheese and onions sounds even better. I may reinvent the quiche. . .

    I once served my mother mixed steamed vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots) that I had prepared rather carefully by cooking each vegetable to its time less that needed for the next, adding a little butter, and tossing them. My mom wanted to know what they were. I said, “Mixed vegetables.” “No,” she said, “what brand? These are delicious.” I said, “Mom, they’re fresh.” I don’t think she knew you could cook vegetables that way.

  5. Barbara Says:

    “A refried bean pie with chilis, cheese and onions sounds even better. I may reinvent the quiche. . .”

    I think you’re onto something.

    BTW, she was in her late seventies and her eyesight was failing. It sort of horrified her to realize what she’d done, but she had a good laugh about it anyway.

  6. Marianne Says:

    A friend told me today, when I was raving about surplus squash, about a quiche recipe she found with the crust made of grated zucchin. I’m going to have to try that one. . .

  7. wanderings Says:

    So jealous of your garden. I used to live in CT where my landlord had a HUGE garden outside my backdoor. I was able to pluck fresh zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc when I pleased. Here in AZ, I have yet to try a garden…

    I love zucchini these days. One of my favorites! Anotehr favorite of late are mushrooms… which by coincidence was my hated veggie growing up.

  8. Marianne Says:

    Annie, good to hear from you. I love my garden, but right now it’s a little overwhelming. It’s definitely an every-day sort of thing. But the fresh sweet corn in a few weeks will make it all worthwhile–10 minutes from pick to boil or steam.

  9. wanderings Says:

    Well, hang in there! I am sorry for your latest aches and pains… 🙂

  10. Marianne Says:

    Annie, those aches and pains are now mostly history. The ones that won’t go away are those associated with age. . .;^}

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