Winter solstice, where a zucchini festival is a bit like the Andromeda Galaxy

"Howdy, friends, from faraway summer."

Today was the winter solstice; the shortest day of the year.

In my neighborhood, the sun set just nine hours and two minutes after it rose — leaving almost 15 hours, a whopping two-thirds of the day, steeped in darkness. A couple of days ago, a fierce blizzard blanketed the East Coast; snow shovels scraped gravel from North Carolina all the way to New England.

Everywhere, there are white holiday lights. Already, Chanukah has passed. Christmas and New Years will be done in the blink of an eye. Then comes January’s deep freeze.

When you’re in one season, it’s hard to believe that another ever existed, or might still. When the skin on your hands is cracked and bleeding from sub-zero winds, summer seems almost like a myth. You can know that it exists — the balmy breezes, the long, hot days, the smell of sunscreen, the blooms, the roadside farm-stands — but it all feels a little like the Andromeda Galaxy — so impossibly far away that it may as well not exist.

With that in mind, I bring you this posting from beyond our current, chilly universe; a little reminder that summer is real, that it actually does exist. This guest post, from my brother-in-law, Matt, is actually a bit like the Andromeda Galaxy, in that what you see here here is actually a report from the past.

Last summer, Matt attended the West Stockbridge, Massachusetts Zucchini Festival; it’s something I’ve wanted to attend for years, and we always found ourselves somewhere else on that weekend. Matt sent me this report. I share it here, today, to remind you — and myself — that even today, on the darkest day of the year, summer is still out there. The days of harvests and baseball games and children whose faces are smeared with ice cream and — yes, zucchini — they are all out there still, even as we wrap ourselves in woolen hats and down coats.

Here’s Matt’s report, with some photos to really capture it.

Zucchini is not hard to grow in New England; it tends to be a bit too easy to grow, actually, and can easily produce wildly overabundant crops. Eventually, gardeners soon grow sick it and will do about anything to get rid of the stuff – a great gift to friends and just about anyone who will accept it, come August.  I have even heard of desperate gardeners abandoning zucchini on the neighbor’s doorsteps or on the front seats of unlocked cars.

Not that this is entirely a bad thing.

Zucchini is among the most versatile vegetables.  You can bake it into bread, eat it raw, sauté it, fry it, bake it alone, eat its flowers, or even empty it out to make an impromptu serving boat.  It’s a modest ingredient with a mild and delicate flavor that tends to harmonize with more dominating flavors such as garlic or tomatoes.

The Zucchini Festival allows  New Englanders to celebrate their love and revulsion for this abundant vegetable. Personally, I had been feeling a bit of revulsion as I drove to the festival…  heavy rains had blocked so much sunlight that many of the fruits of my garden were rotting in their beds.

Once at the festival, I found myself soon forgetting my gardening woes.  There were neo-hippies drumming up a storm on the streets with barefooted  women dancing to the beat and men dressed up in folksy zucchini hats.  The high point for my kids probably was the zucchini-flinging catapult (the Big Flipper), which hurled unwanted zucchini into a dumpster, decorated like a giant mouth, some fifty feet distant.  In fact, most of the flung zucchini ended up splattered and torn up on the ground.

For me, the best part of the festival was the zucchini-decorating contest where kids and adults made their own zucchini creations using carving tools, fabric, and paint.  From a Jewish Orthodox zucchini to a carved clunker car zucchini, this contest was full of whimsy.

I would have been pleased to have traded the rubber ducky race, the face painting for which my children begged, and the countless street vendors that had nothing really to do with Zucchini. What I could have used more than anything else at the festival was a good mouthful of tasty zucchini ratatouille, zucchini enchiladas, zucchini and turkey pannini, zucchini lasagna, grilled zucchini sandwich, or one of the other thousand dishes that can be made with the vegetable.

The food offered just a touch of inspiration in the form of zucchini batter ice cream. Then there was the standard carnival fare: fried zucchini and zucchini wraps. One vendor sold paper bowls filled with zucchini stew. Still another sold variations on zucchini bread. Still, I found myself yearning for more.

Fortunately, I was able to followed my  four-year-old daughter’s suggestion. Because even the wettest of summers still leaves plenty of zucchini to spare, I went home to my garden, picked some zucchini, and cooked a few of these things up myself.

Yes, Virginia. There realy is a zucchini catapult.

And here is some of her carnage.

Dress your zucchini in calico and denim.

Why it's a veritable zucchini city!

Wh it's a veritable zucchini city!

Zucchini invades.

Bake it into muffins...

Or you can always deep-fry it.

Some big ol' zucchini on display

And some rubber duckies, of course. Wait. Huh?

Take off your shoes and dance a little to the beat. Because: summer.

Peace, yo.

And there you have it. A report from the past, which is also a report from the future: a future which promises a harvest so abundant that people don’t hesitate to catapult produce toward a dumpster, or dress it up like robot. The promise of warmer days and summer festivals and face paint on happy kids, and days when maybe (just maybe) blizzards and whipping winds seem like some distant memory.

Thanks, Matt. Happy solstice, all.

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5 Responses to “Winter solstice, where a zucchini festival is a bit like the Andromeda Galaxy”

  1. 1 Jack December 22, 2009 at 7:38 am

    But where’s the photo of the “zucchini catapult”?

  2. 2 Michelle December 22, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    But I love the winter solstice as it means that the days are now getting longer. Thanks for the glimpse into things past and future. Happy holidays to all of you!

  3. 3 behan December 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    In our old home on Bainbridge Island, there are annual zucchini races. The biggest, baddest zucchinis are dressed up, fitted out with wheels, and raced down an aisle at the weekly farmer’s market. It’s priceless- results are published, of course.

    It’s a neck-in-neck race to the finish (oof…sorry for the awful pun).

    One of my favorite stories, though, was our CSA farmer’s antics with her neighbors. They would take huge (like, child-size) zucchinis, dress them up, and leave them on each other’s porches. One time they even stuck one out in the pond in front where it wasn’t terribly accessible. It’s a ongoing riff.

    You’ve probably read it already, but if not, find Barbara Kinsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.” She has a really funny passage about how people in her community handle their excess of Zucchini. Apparently, you should never leave your doors unlocked during zucchini harvest season.

  4. 4 Vikki December 28, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you. I really need to think there is something beyond winter.

  1. 1 Winter solstice, where a zucchini festival is a bit like the … | facepaint Trackback on December 22, 2009 at 11:32 am
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