Monday, August 23, 2010

National Zucchini Night

One of our least well known holidays in America may be National Zucchini NIght, August 8th. Started by a man in Pennsylvania, it is celebrated by secretly leaving gifts of zucchini on the front porches of 'lucky' neighbors. As I wondered how such a bizarre practice could be the foundation for a national holiday, it was inevitable that I found myself thinking about the nature of this summer squash, one that seems to be in perennial oversupply.

One might well wonder whether secretly leaving, wasting, dumping zucchini on the porches and doorsteps of unsuspecting and innocent neighbors--official holiday or not--might really constitute little more than a positively shameful waste of food. (To my knowledge there is no existing Minneapolis City Ordinance referring to the unlawful dumping of zucchini.) Unburdening oneself of excess unwanted vegetables is undoubtedly not the most civic minded, responsible or green thing to do. Then again, how does that saying go . . . "One man gathers what another man spills", or something like that. This may come from some parable in the Bible, but I remember it from a Grateful Dead song, Saint Stephen, on Live Dead, Vol 1.

Still, zucchini may well be the most drab and under-appreciated vegetables around. (It's not technically a fruit like a tomato really is, is it?) Moreover, you have to admit that this relatively small, unpretentious and painfully modest vegetable is NOT in short supply. The popularity it continues to enjoy in the gardens of our citizenry puzzles me. People always seem to be wanting to get rid of the things, as in . . . "Here--have some zucchini from my garden!" And the hapless victim receiving the bounteous gift of zucchini can't easily say what they really think, now can they? "Oh great, just what I wanted--more zucchini to add to the two dozen that are already languishing in the Crisper drawer in my refrigerator." The pile of neglected zucchini slowly become more and more rubbery as the months of late summer and fall pass by, as these forgotten vegetables consistently find themselves being passed over while their more appealing vegetable brethren lying on a more prominent shelf in the fridge are used in everything from salad to ratatouille.

Most people just don't know what to do with zucchini in the first place--let alone with extra zucchini. Since they're perishable, you can't really use them as a door stop. They are not to be confused with cucumbers--are they even related? They do not taste any where near like a good cucumber. They taste vaguely like cardboard, except their texture is very different than cardboard. You can't really carve them into clever shapes very well. I hear that they freeze poorly. They cannot be pulverized and used for grouting tile or flooring material. They don't hold nails or screws well, and forget about making clothes out of them like you can hemp or fibers made from corn. You cannot cut holes in them and make fanciful musical flutes out of them, and there's no point in beating a drum with one. I've heard they might find favor as sex toys by some, but I have no experience with this. I would imagine that the practical challenges presented by their size and/or shape might well prove formidable.

Neither dogs, cats, nor cows care to eat them. They don't come in different colors--they're all the same dumb shade of green. You can't ferment them to make a fulsome, cheery and fortifying drink like the Norwegians do with potatoes and caraway seeds. (Aquavit!) You can't really write on them, inscribing intricate yet durable pictographs like the Andean Natives do upon gourds, nor can you scoop out their insides and carve them like pumpkins. And everyone knows you can't talk with a zucchini (well, The Prince of Wales might try).

Lacking the heft of a nice, ripe tomato, you cannot peg them at neighborhood rivals. Unlike eggs, they should not be thrown at windows or speeding cars--you might hurt someone.

Really, when you get right down to it, the zucchini is not a very exciting vegetable. And so--only from my personal point of view of course--one might just as well leave them on doorsteps and porches on a quiet, dark and warm August night. It's not like there's going to be a shortage anytime soon. Still, I would urge anyone doing so to always dispose of their zucchini responsibly. Get them on the porch, where they belong--and don't leave them splattered and forlorn in the road like wasted pumpkins the morning after Halloween.