Autumn, time of changing colours, falling leaves, crisp mornings, and the harvest. Many casual and professional gardeners will now be looking at their crops and working at bringing in the rewards of their hard work over summer.
The marrow is a cucurbit (Latin for gourd), a vegetable family that includes the melon, cucumber and squash. Cucurbitaceae had been cultivated in the Americas for around 2,000 years before being brought to Europe. The vines produce yellow or orange flowers which can be male or female. The male flowers produce pollen and the females produce the vegetable. In New Zealand they are best planted between October and December and will be ready to harvest after 3 or 4 months.
A marrow is a courgette (or zucchini if you prefer) which has been left on the vine, rather than picked when small. A good marrow will be about the length of your forearm; any larger and they can become bitter to the taste. Like a courgette, the flesh of the marrow is white and creamy and the skin and seeds are edible. They are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, folic acid, and iron, and have no fat or cholesterol.
They are mild in flavour and offer themselves to be livened up with stronger flavours. A read through the recipe books in the museum collection reveals a treasure trove of marrow recipes used over the last hundred or more years – boiled or fried, stuffed and roasted, made into soups, jams and chutneys. It is a wonderfully versatile vegetable, its potential limited only by culinary imagination.
Margie Beautrais, one of the museum educators, has gardened most of her life with a focus on vegetables. Margie grows hue (hard-shelled gourds), kamokamo, pumpkins, beans, garlic, brassicas, lots of herbs, onions, yams, potatoes, and courgettes and marrows. Her secret to a good marrow crop is lots of manure or compost and lots of water when it gets dry. She recommends picking courgettes when they are young as the seeds haven’t developed and the entire fruit is edible, and likes grating them into mince dishes to add moisture and texture.
Margie’s green thumbs have got the better of her this year and she has a glut of marrows – so many she has generously decided to give them away! The marrows will be available to the public in the foyer of the museum from Saturday 28 March (today) during open hours of 10.00 am to 4.30 pm. Visitors will be able to take home a marrow and a sheet of recipes, including ones taken from the cook books in our collection, and some more modern dishes too. Koha would be appreciated with all proceeds will be going towards relief in Vanuatu after the recent hurricane. This will be managed through UNICEF. Others who have a surplus of vegetables and don’t know what to do with them are welcome to add them to the collection at the museum to give away.
Here’s one to be going on with:
Radiation Cookery Book printed in 1931
VEGETABLE MARROW JAM
6 lbs. marrow
6 lbs. preserving sugar
Rind and juice of 3 to 4 lemons
2 to 4 ozs bruised ginger.
Cut the marrow into 1-inch cubes. Place in bowls: alternate layers of fruit and sugar in each bowl. Leave in a cool place for 24 hours. Pout into the preserving pan. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring carefully to avoid breaking the marrow. Before boiling, add the juice of the lemons, and the rind and ginger ties in muslin. Boil rapidly for 30 to 35 minutes, skimming when necessary. The jam, when ready, will not set, but the marrow will sink in the syrup and the scum will stop rising. Pour into heated jars, cover and label.
While researching marrow recipes, the museum archivist came across this poem in the Unity Lodge Cookery Book printed in 1907:
A Ballad of Vegetables
by Joseph Meehan
A potato went out on a mash
And sought an onion bed;
“That’s pie for me!” observed the squash,
And all the beets turned red.
“Go ‘way!” the onion, weeping cried;
“Your love I cannot be;
The pumpkin be your lawful bride –
You cantaloupe with me.”
But onward still the tuber came
And lay down at her feet;
“You cauliflower by any name
And it will smell as wheat;
And I, too, am an early rose,
And you I’ve come to see;
So don’t turnip your lovely nose,
But spinachat with me.”
“I do not carrot all to wed,
So go, sir, if you please!”
The modest onion meekly said,
“And lettuce, pray, have peas!
Go, think that you have never seen
Myself, or smelled my sigh;
Too long a maiden I have been
For favours in your eye!”
“Ah, spare a cuss!” the tuber prayed;
“My cherryshed bride you’ll be;
You are the only weeping maid
That’s currant now with me!”
And as the wily tuber spoke
He caught her by surprise,
And giving her an artichoke,
Devoured her with his eyes.