Sunday, October 23, 2005

The last zucchini and a pile of cabbage

I just ate the most fantastic plate of food I think I have ever tasted. And that it came as a result of a minor argument only makes it that much better. Well, I don’t really want to call it an argument; it was more like a simple disagreement about what to do with a particular zucchini. These things happen I suppose. There’s nothing you can do about it. But like I say, I guess that they could be considered one of the spices of life.

Anyway, said zucchini had been our “seed mama” for next year’s crop. She had lain out on the field for perhaps two full months growing and feeding her seeds undisturbed. And then at the end, when the plant around her had nothing left to give her, we took her and left her to dry inside the house for another month. We had just brought her back to town a few days ago. Well, zucchini’s by way of protecting their seeds become rather hard and first thing that happened was that Tanya nearly cut her finger off trying to get a knife into her. “Adam! Help me!” What do you need? “I am not strong enough to cut the zucchini open.” I thought that this was kind of foolish, but I picked up the knife and tried and sure enough the zucchini had become rather rock-like over time. Interesting. I suppose this makes sense if you consider that the deterioration process needs to take the whole winter in order for the seeds to hit the land at the proper time. Other plants don’t so this, but zucchinis do.

But we don’t do natural selection here, we do the work ourselves. So, being a bit stronger of wrist and though it was actually a bit of a struggle, I hacked mama open, halved her and then we raked out a huge amount of fat, hard zucchini seeds which we placed on paper to dry. And this was when the argument started. I looked at what remained of mama; whose insides had turned a lovely, pumpkin squash-like shade of orange, rather than pickle green and white. Let’s eat her! “There is nothing there to eat.” Tanya said in reference to what was left of our girl, “It has all gone to the seeds”. Boil it, is what I said, just like you do with pumpkins. “It’s different from Pumpkins.” She added and so I tasted a piece; a little sweet, but also a little…zucchini-ish as well. She tasted some and then promptly spit it out.

“What did you do that for?” I asked.

“Who can eat this?” She answered. I tasted some more thinking I might have missed something or that maybe she had got a bad piece or something. It tasted fine to me. I gave her the other half of what I had eaten. She spat that out as well, suppressing a retch while she was at it.

“Are you joking?”

“Adam, it is terrible.”

“You’re crazy.” I said, “We’re cooking it!” And so we did.

We have what I suppose is called a Dutch Oven in the west but is known as a “Goosadnitsa” here. The word “Goose” is the same in both languages and the pot is intended for preparing that particular bird. But of course we are veggies so we usually use the pot for stuffed cabbage and things like that. Anyway, I cut the zucchini mama up into half moons and then cut the skin off. After this, I cut her into squares and tossed them into the goosadnitsa with some oil and lit the fire. Tanya then threw in some new cabbage (see below) and some rice and some salt and spices and we just left it to cook for a while. Sorry of you were waiting for a better recipe but we are just not that formal here.

So she was cooking for a while and we did some other things and after a while I had the urge to have a taste. “Don’t touch it. It is not ready.”

“What do you know from ready or not ready; you couldn’t even open her with a knife.”

“It needs to be cooked to the end.”

I opened the pot and stuck a spoon in. “It’s the end.” I pulled out one small piece of orange zucchini. Oh mama rodnoi, you have no idea how good this was. I gave the piece to Tatyana. She tasted maybe a millimeter off the tip. “Taste it for G-d’s sake!” She did and then did another retch and spit it out. “You’re crazy!” I only waited another few minutes before pulling out a plateful and taking it into the other room. Now, how to describe how tasty this was:

I remember when I was a kid I saw an episode of the Phil Silvers TV show from the 50’s. What was that called? “You’ll never get rich”? I don’t know but Phil Silvers was an army sergeant in charge of the motor pool and he was a big scammer and in this one episode, he finds this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves this particular stew that is so good that it has the effect of making people want to eat it with two hands so as to get the food into their mouths faster. This is the picture, Phil silvers and his guys in grainy black and white, taking a taste and then grabbing a second spoon for their other hand and then shoveling the stew two fisted into their mouths, I had when I tasted this stuff. Unbelievable. I think I ate five plates yesterday.

And it is such rare food too! I am not sure it is as rare as that coffee bean that supposedly has to be consumed, digested and crapped by a Himalayan Snow Leopard, but it is still pretty rare. You could probably replace the spent mama zucchini with pumpkin I suppose, but then again, you can’t tell me that there is nothing special and lovely about the particular flavor and magic of a spent mama zucchini. Even the idea makes me kind of feel good.

So many cabbages.

So talk all you want about how great harvest time is and how nice it is to be flooded with so many fresh and tasty things to eat, but I tell you, you would not think it was all that great if you saw our kitchen today. Piles and piles and piles of cabbages. When we started this year we decided that we did not need as many cabbages as we did last year and only planted about 200 heads as apposed to a little more than three hundred last year. However, what we have forgotten was that we had planted last year in two groups, one very early in the spring and the other about six to eight weeks later. So the results are that because even though we planted less over all, this year rather than half being ready during the summer they all only came in at the end, hence the piles. Tanya was laughing today as she cleaned and prepared all of the red and green heads. “Adam, what are we supposed to do about all of this?”

Well, this is a good question. The first thought is to sell the extra, and this is pretty normal a thing. But in this case, I simply do sot see the point. Cabbage sells these days for maybe a dime a kilo, almost nothing. And if we would sell off say, half of our good cabbage, the kind that you save as sauerkraut for winter, well, we might be looking at $5 for all of it so there simply isn’t enough money coming back. I mean, I would if we would have at least had some actual money to show for the sale than I would with pleasure. We did this last year when we had over 100 kilos of garlic to sell. We would go out to the market with our garlic and also some cabbage and some apples and some other things we had stuck in the ground. It wasn’t like we got rich, but selling the extra did pay for the bus trips to and from the farm.

But my thinking is that there is more inherent value in the cabbage in saving it as food as there is in turning it into a few pennies. Yes, I know this is a lot of work, but I think it is worth it. I mean, why not? There you in the middle of February, the sky is gray, it is snowing or there is sleet outside, the hot water radiators are barely cutting the chill and as you don’t smoke: What do you do? Well, I agree that the desire for sauerkraut is a thing that comes and goes, but sauerkraut is not the only possible way to save cabbage. Almost any cooked food can be banked and so simply taking the time to prepare some large quantities of cabbage based meals just simply makes those down times that much easier.

So what is good? Well, I happen to love simply fried cabbage. I think it tastes great. And luckily, in my experience, you really do not loose that much flavor by banking it. And building on that theme, why not a few banks of spicy? Why not some curry? Why not with sweet and sour, plumb, apple, pear, cherry, apricot, hot pepper or berry sauce? Anything that seems to break the boredom would seem to work for me.

So this is our plan and though it is going to be about two or three days work to get everything squared away, in the end, we will have better than 100 kilos of tasty food stuff to help us get through those long winter months and deep into next spring until the next fresh comes a long. And of course into the following year as well.

Thanks for reading me. More soon…