Squash lovers delight in the abundant zucchini


Zucchini season is near, and I am ready this year.

I moved the wheelbarrow next to the squash patch. I cleared out the refrigerator. I opened all my cookbooks to the letter Z.

I schmoozed up to friends and neighbors, who are about to be buried in green. I lifted weights in anticipation of harvesting the one zucchini that always manages to hide in the garden until it's the size of Cal Ripken's bat.

Don't get me wrong. I love zucchini. I look forward to picking the first ones from the garden.

But by the 50th zucchini, I'm going crazy.

That's the problem with this fruitful vegetable. Once it gets warmed up, zucchini acts as if it is coming off a conveyor belt instead of a plant.

Sensible gardeners grow one hill (three plants) of zucchini, which provides plenty of produce for the table and freezer. Two hills of zucchini will feed a township. Three hills will feed Roseanne Barr.

Why, then, would anyone plant 50 hills of zucchini?

To supply the International Zucchini Festival, of course.

The festival, held annually in Nelson, N.H., pays homage to the lowly zucchini. Squash lovers gather to sing zucchini songs and play zucchini games. They come to view zucchini sculpture and attend zucchini concerts played on zucchini instruments. They eat curried zucchini and spill it down the front of their zucchini T-shirts.

Everyone always has a zucchini good time.

rTC "You have to do something with this vegetable," says Emily Hartshorne, an organizer of this year's festival scheduled for Aug. 25.

Last year's fair used 1,000 zucchini. Organizers hope to grow at least that many squash on a 30-by-50-foot garden plot on the grounds of the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, sponsor of the 9-year-old festival. So far, the plants are thriving.

Some of the veggies will be made into zucchini bagels, bread and ice cream. Forget the zucchini punch: Last year's drink was a washout.

Many of the zucchini are used in popular athletic events, such as the Zucchini Squish Contest, in which people use squash rackets to hit chunks of cooked zucchini over a badminton net. Alas, the zucchini usually splatters on the server.

Other competition includes Zucchini Croquet and the Zucchini Seed Spit (record: 15 feet).

In the Zucchini Carry Race, two runners try to carry a third person laden with zucchini over the finish line. The Zuke Loop, a more conventional event, is a 4.2-mile run on a wooded trail for which the last-place finisher receives a case of 100 zucchini.

Winners in all events receive green ribbons.

All day, fairgoers browse the extensive display of zucchini sculpture, featuring animals, birds and even a zucchini Gumby. Or they may have their caricatures done by local artists, who draw zucchini in every sketch.

There are contests for everything from Biggest Zucchini to Most Repulsive Zucchini.

Meanwhile, roving bands of musicians play instruments carved from zucchini, notably woodwinds.

"You can cut out the center of a zucchini, drill a few holes, stick in a reed and play it like an oboe," says Ms. Hartshorne. "It sounds like a kazoo."

Zucchini fiddles are more frail, she says. When you draw a bow across it, the zucchini tends to squish.

Musicians have even made cymbals out of zucchini, says one festival organizer, but there is a problem: Zucchini cymbals only work once.

Entertainment is also provided by the Zuke-a-matics and the Zuke-a-matic Dancers, who are garbed in green costumes to perform -- what else? -- The Zucchini Rap:

You can cook zucchini any kind of way!

You can eat zucchini any time of day!

You can mix them with your corn flakes, you can put them in your soup.

If you don't like Zukes, don't listen to this group!

At day's end, the green trash is simply swept into the compost pile.

Despite being stretched, squeezed and mutilated at the festival, the zucchini always manages to come out ahead.

Says Ms. Hartshorne: "We've gained tremendous respect for the zucchini, and what it can do."

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