Zucchini apples and alewife sardines

The summer of 200l was not kind to Down East gardens. Rainfall was less than normal, and sustained hot weather caused fruit and berries to dry and drop. Veggies didn't "set." I did well, for in my retirement from the soil, my amusement garden was a single tomato plant in a bucket on our third-floor retirement home balcony. I got six tomatoes, which were delicious.

At least one traditional Maine summer delicacy failed, and we rather much forewent Maine's seasonal first apple pie. In normal circumstances, a "green apple" pie is due on or about Aug. 1, made from either of two yellow apples that are ready at that time: the Yellow Transparent and the August Sweet. The Red Astrachan matures a few days later.

None of these is a keeper or a shipper, so first apple pies can be enjoyed only in the kitchens of the growers. All these early varieties go soft as soon as they ripen, so the custom is to gather enough for a pie before they drop. They are still green (unripe) when pared and sliced, though the apples are golden yellow and spotted red. Hence, green-apple pie.

I have a forlorn letter from Ruth Wuori, who says the Red Astrachan apples shriveled and dropped, useless, this year. For the first time in his wedded career, Hubby Ed didn't get his green-apple pie, and he wasn't fit to have around the house. But, she adds in happier words, she was able to concoct a fairly presentable zucchini pie, which Ed could hardly tell from apple, and the crisis passed.

I believe this is news, and the presses should be held for the recipe. Ruth has obliged me. When you find somebody who can't tell zucchini from an early Transparent apple, it's time to sit down and draw a deep breath.

The zucchini has mystified me from our first acquaintance. I suppose it was invented by a mad Italian who had a grudge against his own children. "Now eat this, bambini, it's good for you!"

The first time I grew a zucchini, I planted a row of the things. Before I finished covering the seeds, zucchinis were chasing me. Fifteen minutes later, I killed one with a rock and took it to the house. My wife said, "Oh! You left it too long! You have to pick them when they're little!" Just before I pick them, they are little, but by the time I get my jackknife open, they are too big to lift.

Zucchini Apple Pie

4 cups zucchini, peeled, cut into quarters lengthwise, seeded and sliced crosswise. (Note: Use big zucchini still tender enough that you can pierce the skin easily with your thumbnail.)

1 nine-inch unbaked pie shell with top crust

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt

1-1/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3 tablespoons flour

Butter

Boil zucchini until tender-crisp, about 5 min. Stir together zucchini, lemon juice, and a dash of salt. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon, cream of tartar, nutmeg, and flour. Add zucchini and mix well. The mixture will be runny, but this is OK. Dump the filling into a nine-inch crust, dot with butter, add top crust, seal, and bake in a preheated 400-degree F. oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Ruth adds, "Some wickid old goo-ood!" (She speaks Down Maine fluently.) People just can't believe it is not apple, she says. That may be so, and we'll see, but at least it's something better than zucchini used unpoetically as squash.

I am reminded, for some reason, of Holly Wyman's sardines.

Senator Wyman packed a good grade of sardines for the trade. Maine sardines are really small herring, but the word "sardine" is approved by the government, so Holly's herring were properly labeled as sardines. However, every season, Holly put up a special run of sardines that he did not sell because in each can he inserted a small cube of smoked alewife, to impart a different flavor.

The alewife is a big fish, bony, and not especially esteemed by Mainers. When smoked (the only way Mainers eat them), alewives are called bloaters, smokers, or Kennebec turkeys. So if Holly offered his special sardines with a wee bit of alewife tucked in, he'd be obliged to say so on the can, and sales would go accordingly.

Holly packed only a short run of his sardines with smoked alewife, without anything on the label about smoked alewife, and gave them away as executive gifts or favors to friends. He didn't want any trouble with the Food and Drug Administration.

But as he handed out his cans of sardines with their secret ingredient, people asked where they could buy them. Holly realized he had a demand. But he well knew the word "alewife" would scare customers away.

Then he took, so to speak, a zucchini and baked himself an apple pie. Holly's special pack of sardines with the flavor of smoked alewife appeared on the market at a gourmet price, and sold well for many years. The label now said, "Maine Sardines à la Gaspereau Fumé."

Nobody with the FDA knew that in Nova Scotia an alewife is called a gaspereau. Some of the people you can fool, at least some of the time.

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