Courgette is a fruit but it deserves to be treated like a vegetable

Though it emigrated to Ireland from Central America, courgette grows well here

Marrows have been grown in England for at least two centuries (1822), but courgettes don’t get a mention until the 1960s. Photograph: iStock

Marrows have been grown in England for at least two centuries (1822), but courgettes don’t get a mention until the 1960s. Photograph: iStock

 

Courgettes, as with all of the squash family, began their lives in Central America and were brought back to Europe by Spanish sailors. Surprisingly, they had little uptake, at least according to written reports, and their first mention arose in Milan in 1901. This is the moment when the modern zucchini (courgette) is born.

From there it emigrated to the US, where it gets it first acknowledgement in 1920, having been adopted by Italian immigrants. It’s funny how food travels, often in a circuitous manner, around the world. I don’t know when courgettes made their way to Ireland.

Florence Irwin, one of the forgotten heroes of Irish food, wrote about using marrows (mature courgettes) for jam and soup in the 1940s. Was it Americans who brought the courgette back to Ireland?

Though marrows have been grown in England for at least two centuries (1822), courgettes don’t get a mention until the 1960s. Irwin writes of meeting an American woman who bemoaned the large Irish marrow for its relative absence of flavour. Whatever its origins, courgettes grow well in Ireland (as do other squashes).

Even though it is a key component in the French dish ratatouille, don’t forget it’s actually a fruit. Perhaps culinary intelligence resides in knowing that it’s a fruit but cooking it as if it were a vegetable. The recent thread of spiralising everything seems to have fallen fastest on the courgette. Not that I have anything against courgette “pasta”, except that it’s not pasta. 

How to make courgette jam

Irwin peels and seeds her courgettes, but if they are not too large (bigger than 6in), I wouldn’t bother. The skins are nutritious and the seeds give a little texture.

Chop five courgettes with two diced onions and fry in a little oil. Add a bay leaf, a minced garlic clove and sea salt to taste. After a few minutes, add 350g of sugar, 150g of water and 30ml of apple balsamic vinegar (or lemon or lime juice). Cook until the jam thickens slightly. It will take about 20 minutes on a medium heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and vinegar.

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