This past winter I serendipitously fell into a community garden. I really say fell, because it was by mere chance. I don’t live in the neighborhood where the garden is located and I was new to Bend, but was working for a food place of sorts. They had received notice that our parks department was looking for volunteers to be on a steering committee. I had nothing better to do that evening, so I went – more to gather information than actually participating. That didn’t last … I became an accomplice.
Community gardens entice me. I love the concept of using vacant lots and strips in street meridians, or even planned areas to grow food. People are hungry; and there is a crisis of good food, but that is another story to tell. Connect that to bringing people together for a common activity, well in my mind you have great success.
It’s moving toward late September. The summer growing season is wrapping up. We’ve had a light frost, and a more damaging one could come any day. It’s time to put the garden to sleep for the winter, which means the committee needs to arrange for a clean-up day, address the questions of winter gardening and celebrate our first year with a grand potluck. So we met.
Our conversation covered all of the important necessities, but continued to drag back to what grew and what had issues. It’s amazing what a shot of fertilizer rich with blood meal will do for sick-looking vegetables, including the ubiquitous zucchini, known for becoming a leviathan.
Now this humble summer squash of abundant reputation is everyone’s darling when they’re small fry, but left hidden under leaves of green, they soon take on the size of a linebacker’s legs. Lots of folks just decide to toss these brutes on the compost pile, feeling like they’ve out grown their usefulness. Au contraire, my friend. These ample squash make a sublime vessel to carry meat and vegetables smothered in sharp cheddar curds. Two fellow gardeners secretly confessed to glomming onto discarded compost-pile vegetables.
Zucchini’s flavor is sort of nondescript. The bonus of that is they adapt to different preparations like a chameleon changing colors. I do admit that the small zukes are preciously perfect for a quick sauté with garlic and a toss of fresh basil. But, the large beauties all hollowed out and stuffed with a mix of ground meat, rice, black beans and corn is pretty darned good. Left-over bits of refrigerator stuff sit nicely in the carved out vegetable. In fact, using up those orts is how my “garden” variety came about.
I had some sweet chicken sausage, a few stalks of celery, a couple of carrots, onions, tomatoes and a bell pepper. Those basic ingredients could have become the base for a spaghetti sauce, but I also had a couple of over-grown zucchini.
My lovelies were sliced lengthwise and the excess seeds were scraped out with a spoon. Vegetables were chopped to about a ½” dice and cooked up in a skillet with the sweet sausage until they were slightly caramelized and quite yummy with salt, pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes. I loaded the zucchini with the meat mixture, put them on a baking sheet lined with foil and placed them on the grill to cook for about a half an hour. They could also be baked off in a 375 degree oven, but I quite like the smoky infusion of the grill.
With all of this babbling about community gardens and compost piles and ugly, over-grown vegetables, where do you fall on the zucchini size preponderance?