Anyone want marrows?
Joe and Lesley were jaunting along the main path at the allotment garden as I was about to lock the gate and go home with a bucket full of beans and onions. Joe was pushing an old wheelbarrow. "Are you coming out?" I shouted.
"Yes!" they shouted back.
"I won't lock the gate then," I said – again, a shout. We like shouting down here. I think it's part of the freedom of the place. We don't want just to garden. We want to shout, too. It's an ideal and zesty combination.
I propped the gate open with a small stone.
When the couple arrived, we immediately talked about Matisse. I have only recently become acquainted with these two. Lesley is very keen on Matisse, I discovered – and about art in general, in fact.
Joe, who is a retired engineer, is keener, I think, on cooking. Last time we met, he explained how he cooks Swiss chard.
"Did you see the review in today's Telegraph about the Matisse exhibition just outside Copenhagen?" Lesley asked.
"No, I didn't," I replied. "But I do know about it. Sounds fascinating."
She promised to cut out the review for me. Meanwhile, Joe was heaving a concrete slab out of the back of their car into his barrow. I hoped the barrow could manage it.
I was just about at my car when an inspiration smote me.
"Do you want any courgettes or marrows?" I shouted.
Their instant response was high drama: They both threw the palms of their hands in the air, as if they were defending themselves against Godzilla or some Transylvanian ghoul, and they shouted, screamed, yelled, even, "No way!" It was a terribly funny performance.
But I knew what they meant.
This has been a warm season, and when it comes to what we in our corner of the northern hemisphere call courgettes or (vegetable) marrows – and others, especially in the US, call squash or zucchini – we have had an excessively good year.
I am harvesting two or three every other day from my two and a half plants. Bob, who has a dozen plants, is overloaded with them – dark green and rounded, like zeppelins. He has even e-mailed me more than once, virtually begging me to find good homes for his crop. He piles them on a too-small table by the side of his shed and hopes fervently I will take them all away.
I don't think he eats them himself – he just likes growing them. Joe and Lesley, it seems, have a comparable superfluity.
Part of the problem is that the marrows (which are really just courgettes grown large) don't freeze well (they go mushy). And, also, there are not many things you can do with marrows, apart from stuffing them or steaming them to be covered with a parsley sauce. Not having much flavor, marrows are most enjoyable when served alongside something else with a strong, possibly salty, flavor. Marrows, frankly, are not something you want to eat every day.
But I have been doing my best to reduce Bob's collection. Sarah, who meets my wife while walking her pair of Samoyed dogs, took pity on a few.
Sandra also promised she'd take some more (she used to grow them). Because neither my wife nor I met her and her dog, Zack, for more than a week, I finally (with the help of a well-informed postman) found her house and delivered a bagful on her doorstep.
Liz at the drama club wanted to have some. My brother-in-law keeps promising to take some for his wife and family.
But Bob's pile continues to grow.
One reason Liz was keen was because she liked the sound of marrow and ginger jam. She'd never heard of it before. In our house we have decided it is the prime solution to the marrow question. I have made two lots of it so far this year myself – so much that we've run out spare jam jars.
My second batch was more successful than my first, which, by my too-scrupulously following instructions from Mrs. Beeton's book to cook "slowly for one hour," settled into an intractably sticky state somewhere between good molasses and better glue. It is now crystallizing steadily as well.
It's kind of glorious in its own way, but according to Mrs. B. (and also Mrs. Swift, who some years ago gave me her own recipe), this should not be a "firmly setting jam."
Some past years mine has been just too runny, though, so that when you place it on the bread, the chunks of marrow and ginger are actually washed off it along with the escaping liquid to end up all over the plate.
But my second batch this year has finally turned out perfectly. I can't stop eating it. I sometimes even just spoon it out of the jar. Who needs bread? I am insufferably proud of the achievement.
Liz told me couple of days ago that hers (cooked in her microwave) had turned out well, too, and that she really loves it. She uses it as a sweet chutney as well as a jam.
A convert, clearly. I suspect she may find a dozen more marrows mysteriously left at her door one day in the near future.