The marvellous march of marrows

Kitty Scully says the constantly producing cucurbit is a great plant.

A cold May followed by an extremely dry June set a lot of plants off on a wrong footing this season.

Certain crops, like potatoes and onions seem immune to setbacks and yield as well as always but some of the more tender crops, like squashes taking to sulking.

The same can be said of courgettes growing outside, but in the Airfield Food Gardens, standard courgettes are doing okay but those planted in our ‘heritage’ beds are nothing short of thriving. 

The two heirloom varieties growing are cocozelle with its fabulous pale and deep green stripes and duck with its yellow warty skin.

There is no confusion as to where duck courgettes get their name, making them worth growing for the fun factor alone, not to mention their great flavour. 

These two heirloom varieties are by far the most productive and prolific of all the cucurbita family in the garden right now.

Depending on the variety, a courgette can vary in colour from intense deep green to bright yellow. 

Also known as zucchini, courgettes can be harvested from when they are little more than finger-length with flower still attached or as their name suggests, they can be left grow into giant- sized marrows. 

The literal translation of the French word courgette is ‘immature marrow’.

Traditionally, vegetable marrows were grown in Ireland for many years before they became known by their French and Italian names. 

Originally, they were grown more for curiosity or for local shows, than for eating. The revolution came when people began to use these ‘immature marrows’ in cookery. 

Nowadays, courgettes are prevalent in most Irish plots and their prolific cropping and versatility in the kitchen makes them a household staple.

Courgette flowers alone are a delicacy much sought after by chefs who stuff them with a host of interesting ingredients. 

If used as a garnish, these brilliant yellow flowers never fail to brighten up a platter. Flowers wilt fast once harvested, so ensure to pick fresh and use immediately.

The usual scenario with courgette plants is that no matter how many courgettes one seems to pick and how carefully one clears a plant, one or two always escape and turn into a whopping-size marrow. 

Quite often you might find yourself faced with a whopper of show-like and epic proportions and wondering what on earth you can do with it.

However, this is not all bad as marrows actually store well and can be baked or stuffed with a host of savoury ingredients to serve an army of people.

They are best eaten when baked and whatever you do avoid steaming or cooking them in water. I’ve actuallydeveloped a soft spot for vegetable marrow over the years and they now play a vital role in filling up my preserve cupboard. 

Marrows themselves are pretty tasteless due to their high water content but they are a sublime vehicle for interesting flavours such as lemon, ginger, cardamom, clove or whatever takes your fancy.

Marrows deepen in colour when stored, so jam or chutney made late in the season will be darker than any made earlier.

Marrow and ginger jam is a delicious old fashioned preserve and one of my personal favourites. To add a new interesting twist to this classic, throw a couple of chillies tied in muslin into the pan and savour the fiery infusion. 

The only chutney recipe for marrow that I use is one I gleaned from a Women’s Institute cookbook many years ago. When something is that good, why change it, so here we go.

Marrow and Apricot Chutney

1 lb (450g) prepared marrow

1 lb (450g) apricots chopped andsoaked overnight

1 lb (450g) cooking apples prepared

12 oz (350g) onion chopped

1 lb (450g) sugar

475 ml white malt vinegar

10 cloves, cardamom seeds and 80g bruised ginger tied in muslin bag

Place the marrow, apricots, cooking apple, onions and spices in a large, heavy based pan and simmer until soft and pulpy (about 20 minutes).

If marrow is in greater supply than apples, just exchange cooking apple for marrow and use up more of this monstrous veg in the process.

Add vinegar and sugar, bring to the boil and then simmer until all liquid is evaporated and the chutney is the desired consistency. Pot in sterilised jars.

Best left for three months to mature if you can wait that long.

Yummy served with cheese but also particularly good with curries and smoked fish.


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