Freaky vegetables

What do you do if someone invites you to Mondavi’s Taste3 conference? You go.

There’s the food. The wine. The big ol’ schwag bag. There’s a mulberry tree at Copia that, right now, is raining down dark juicy berries. No one seems to be picking them! There’s a great thrift store in Napa. But even better than the fine wine, the lobster dinner at Mumm where everyone got their nice clothes dirty with butter and lobster drippings; the complimentary coffee, tea, chocolate and shoes–there were some of the most eloquent, poetic, funny, slightly mad people who really care about what they’re doing. Dan Barber gave a talk about why he won’t use foie gras anymore (not for the usual reasons). A photographer named Laura Letinsky, who takes haunting photos of…leftovers, gave a presentation that got my slow-moving brain thumping. Jennifer 8 Lee confirmed my love of Chinese food as the all-American food. It was great. And then I returned hom, back to the vegetables in my garden.

Finally, the cabbage, which has been so slow growing, are starting to form heads. The first to be ready is this Melissa. Crinkly. Somewhat addled with slugs and a few earwigs. Delicious when grated with apples from the tree (the Anna apples are now ready), tossed with rice wine vinegar and walnuts.

The zucchini is out of control, as usual, but early this year on account of the pig manure. This is the vine of the Ronde de Nice zuchini, a round zucchini that volunteered out of the porcine poo
pile. I’ve harvested about a thousand of these small guys with their blossoms still attached. This vine looked weird, though. Thicker. There were flower buds coming off the vine. Not normal. I followed it to its trailing end. My heart stopped. It became a club footed monster. The vine thickened to almost 6 inches thick, like some crawling prickly pear cactus. And at this monstrous terminus was an almost vaginal cluster of flowers and fruit all riddled together.

I gasped. I have never seen this before. There were *so* many fruit in one space. A gold mine of zucchini. Was it the pig shit? Is it some mutation caused by extra fertile soil? Something deeply wrong with my eco-system? I don’t know. I harvested a few of the zucs for dinner, and when I carried them into the house, I couldn’t help think that the zucchini plant reminded me a bit of Taste3–a many headed vine, a delectable banquet, a marvelous freak show that makes for some fond summer memories.

10 responses to “Freaky vegetables

  1. Wow, interesting zucchini problem you’ve got there… that’s quite bizarre. I’m interested to hear how it turns out further along in the season. I’d want to thin some of those blossoms, but it will also be neat to see how many come to fruit, if you decide not to.

  2. Hey Novella-
    Good to see you posting as I’d wondered if you were by some fluke STILL SICK with the SUMMER SNIFFLES.

    And I thought MY zucchini were out of control! Do you have squash bugs out there? Obviously not! They’re driving me crazy.

    On another note: my tomato plants are going crazy. A couple of them are as tall as me. That’s almost 6 feet! And I harvested green beans! I was so excited, because I planted them behind the tomatoes (which went crazy) so I thought surely they would’ve not produced. But they have.

    I’m really thankful. Love your blog.

  3. Ooh, Ooh…I want to be the first one with the correct jargon for the freaky zucchini vine: it is fasciated. I have seen the same pheonomenon with various plants, such as willow branches used in floral arrangements. Fasciation is fascinating!
    Thanks for the pics.

  4. Here’s what wikipedia says about fasciation:
    Fasciation is a condition of plant growth in which the apical meristem, normally concentrated around a single point, producing approximately cylindrical tissue, becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue. The phenomenon may occur in the stem, root, fruit, or flower head.

    Fasciation (also: cresting) can be caused by a mutation in the meristematic cells, bacterial infection, mite or insect attack, or chemical or mechanical damage. Some plants may inherit the trait.

    Fasciation is rare overall, but has been observed in at least a hundred different plant species, including members of Aloe, Celosia, Delphinium, Digitalis, Euphorbia, Forsythia, Primula, Acer and many genera of Cactaceae (cactus) and salix. Cresting results in undulating folds instead of the typical “arms” found on mature Saguaro cactus[1] Some varieties of Celosia are raised especially for their dependably fasciated flower heads, for which they are called “cockscomb”.

  5. so, dudes, should i eat the zuke or is it some kind of mutated freak fest which will lead to cancer?

  6. Hi, Novella! I found your blog, and I’m going to send you a link to a huge online map of London. Check out the farms. Not sure there is any zucchini in them, however.

  7. I say eat ’em! Many vegetable varieties are mutated freaks that humans have selected for over time. Think brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi!

  8. sandra: you rule. thanks.
    duane: have you experienced fasciation in your veggies? did you eat them?
    dr. debs–yes! send me the map! and let me know about your research.
    i did eat them–zuchini pancakes. yum.

  9. Oh, hey, that’s what happened to a linaria in my garden this summer!


    (The serpent-y thing is supposed to look like the rest of the stems around it.)

  10. I had a lemon cucumber do that too. Unfortunately the weird vine arm went out too late in the season and nothing really happened on the flower end. Cool, though. Glad to know the proper name for it!

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