Marvellous marrow

JB from Whangarei has written in response to last week’s column about shopping smarter. “There are many different market places now other than shops and online. Think food cooperatives, farmers market and many innovative local food initiatives. Look up the nearest Transition Town or Localising Food Project to support local growers and cut out the big multinationals. I only support the stores in my town which are NZ owned (think The Warehouse, Pakn’Save, New World). Don’t support companies which favour imported produce over local growers. Vote with your dollars!”

There are indeed many alternatives to the traditional store. Some time ago we compared the same-day prices paid at a local growers market with prices from a nearby low-price supermarket. We found there was not a lot of difference in prices generally – there were unders and overs but the best deals were to be had by bargain hunting at both places.

Putting aside all of the ideological reasons for buying local, we think the best deals and best produce come from your own backyard. Many oily raggers take the view that a lawn is a wasted opportunity. Nowadays it’s quite mainstream to see a family to transforming their green space into garden space. The Localised Food Project that JB mentioned has quite a few examples of back-yard gardens (see You don’t need a lot of space, especially if you make use of boundary fences for trees and vines. Putting in a highly productive garden and orchard is simpler than most people think and more satisfying.

M from Northland has written in to share their excitement about marrows, but before we get into M’s tip, here’s a Trivial Pursuit (the Oily Rag edition!) question. When is a courgette a zucchini?

It’s a trick question because the French and English say courgette while the Italians and North Americans say zucchini, for what is really a baby marrow that is a member of the pumpkin family! Now that’s cleared that up! Courgettes, zucchini, and marrow are fruit from the same plant – just picked at different stages in their life cycle. Courgettes are infant fruit of up to 150mm long, that become zucchini at between 150mm and 200mm, and marrows when allowed to reach maturity at up to 500mm long.

Now back to M and the tip. “We put two courgette plants in just after Christmas (yellow and green varieties). We have been harvesting the yellow one as courgettes and now the green one as marrows. I serve the marrow as a soup. It’s simple and delicious. If you pick your marrow when the skin is still soft, you don’t need to peel it. Scoop out the seeds and chop the flesh, then place in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of butter and sauté – but don’t brown. Add enough water to cover the marrow and simmer until it is soft. Cool a little then blend and return to the saucepan. You will need to add plenty of salt to taste and you can also add some more water at this stage to get the consistency you want. Serve sprinkled with parsley and grated cheese – and crusty fresh bread. This soup can also be served cold with a sprinkle of parsley and a dollop of plain yoghurt.”

Marrows must be one of the simplest vegetables to grow. Like cucumbers and melons, marrows are a summer vegetable that do well in warm soil (so they like a sunny spot in the garden) – with lots of feeding of organic matter and re-feeding when the plants start flowering. They need liberal amounts of water when the fruit begins to swell.

Plant the seeds or seedlings on mounds. Harvest when they reach the desired size, depending on how you are going to use them in the kitchen. It is amazing how quickly little courgettes can become big marrows – almost while your back is turned – so don’t let them out of your sight!