November 4, 2009
August 9, 2009
Snail stories: chapter 347. Recently, the mollusc situation has settled down a bit. They’ve had a nibble at my beans, taken out some flowers, but nothing out of control and for the most part seem happy to confine the majority of their munching to the compost bin.
But the front of our flat is unexplored territory. Next to the path is a tiny batch of bare soil under some tatty bushes (a rose and a flowering shrub of some sort; I can’t eat them so haven’t investigated further…). There’s a drain cover tucked under there too. It’s bare, not because of the shrubs, but because this is where snails rule. Not even weeds survive. It’s ill-advised to put the rubbish out without sturdy shoes as at night the front path becomes a mollusc motorway.
But I was desperate: one of my mystery squash seeds – from a mixed pack so I don’t what variety it is until it fruits – came up late, and then quickly outgrew its tiny pot. No more space, pots or mud in the garden, so I decided to enter Snail Central. Mystery squash was planted out with some of my spare marigold plants – just before some early evening rain.
I ventured out about 11.30pm to hear a noise like a distant cement-mixer. Esther had told me that she tracked down her midnight munchers by sound more than torchlight, and now I see what she means – this really was astonishingly loud. So I followed the sound, and this is what I found…
Much of the plant already stripped bare. A healthy looking leaf left on the top-right, though? Not for long..
The marigolds had already gone – I’d planted 12. These pictures only show the half of it. As I shone the torch around I found more advancing from the edges of the bed, and further battalions positioned on the path.
All in, I picked over 30 snails that night. The next night, about 18. Then ten, and when I got down to two, I knew I was winning. I also learned that snail photography and murder definitely attracts more interest from the neighbours when it is undertaken in the front garden. That stereotype about the British twitching lace curtains? It’s true, even if these days it’s Ikea blinds.
Luckily, the squash was determined. I pointed it towards the rose stem, and it has shot for the sky. I’ll have some very strange looking rose-hips next month…
The picture above shows the first delicate bloom, which looks and feels like tissue. I’m hopeful it’s a cucuzzi, or ‘Sicilian serpent’ – I think curling fruits, over a metre in length, will look lovely in the rose – and provide a good meal.
The flowers are quite unlike the bolshy, gaudy yellow, coarse flowered winter squash (Burgess buttercup) I have elsewhere. I’d normally describe it more favourably, but it’s irritated me.
I was thrilled to start with: I love the way it romped through the garden like a triffid, hooking on to pots, tables, cracks in the stone, fences and me, if I stood still for more than a minute.
Bu then it got mildewy in the weeks of damp weather that have constituted the ‘barbecue weather’ forecast for July, and I cut back the yellowing leaves to slow the spread. Long stretches of stalk, bald except for yellowing leaf-stumps, don’t look so jungle like.
Then, despite an abundance of bees, the first ten fruits did not set. So I had to initiate some early morning sex sessions, with the aid of a paintbrush to transfer pollen manually. All round satisfaction resulted, with both the fruits I assisted now fattening – the picture on the right shows the difference between bees and brushes!
But now, the plants are producing nothing but male flowers. I hope they haven’t given up – I’m still holding out for a glut of squash that I can store for winter meals. And I’d love to save seed, following Mr H’s excellent instructions, but I need more than two fruit if I’m to bother.
The next reason I resent them is really my fault, but I’m blaming the Burgess. I’ve been cooking with my male courgette flowers quite a bit – mainly adding to frittatas. So when I had this annoying surplus of the Burgess flowers I decided to be a bit fancy in the kitchen. I don’t normally like fiddly cooking, but I’ve seen the flowers on sale at Borough market for a pound a piece, so thought I should use them well.
So I made a herby ricotta stuffing, fiddled about picking the bitter stamens and greenfly and ten other forms of insect life out of the flowers and then fiddled about putting the stuffing into the flowers, and wrapping the fiddly ends up, then fiddled about making batter, dipping fiddly flowers in flour then batter, then deep-frying them, while also reducing some balsamic vinegar to drizzle over the finished masterpiece. It was all a bit laborious, and even providing my own pretentious chef-fy commentary didn’t remove the feeling that precious minutes of life were being forever lost to me. But then the big moment: I presented my work of art to He-who-lives-with-me with a flourish, and he made all the right sort of admiring noises. Until he started eating, and then he went rather quiet and seemed especially focused on mopping up as much of the artistic (and sweet) balsamic drizzle as he possibly could. “This balsamic is really nice” he said, very keenly. “Is there any more?”
If only I’d found out before all the fiddling that winter squash flowers can be incredibly bitter. Now I’m incredibly bitter, and that’s the end of fiddly-stuff for me.
Which is a shame, because I think the recipe would be very nice – with summer squash. I found it here, if you fancy fiddling – with summer squash.