When I was a kid, a certain number of the books I toted home from the local Carnegie-funded public library (may Carnegie’s name be ever blessed) originated in England. They were written in English, but full of words and situations entirely foreign. I wondered for years, for example, what leaf mould might be. England seemed to be full of this exotic stuff. If the children in the books went into the woods – as they often seemed to do; the books implied that every British child lived near a paradise of nature – they always seemed to walk on something described as “a rich carpet of leaf mould”. England, I thought, must be a strange and marvelous country to have such things.
Fast forward a bit, and I learned that a torch is only a flashlight, a flask is merely a Thermos, and ginger beer is a simply a species of ginger ale. But I never did find out what was meant by another term I read in those books: vegetable marrow.
Now I have the answer. A vegetable marrow is what you get if you turn your back on a growing zuccini for a minute. When you look again, it’s half the length of a baseball bat and the diameter of one of Schwartzenegger’s biceps.
Vegetable marrows are prized in these parts. A local charity that sells leftover garden produce had a tray of marrows for sale at my doctor’s surgery (that is, his office) the other day, along with the runner beans and tomatoes, and people were buying them. People compete to grow the best ones. Prizes are given at village fêtes and at county shows: best bulls, best carrots, best raspberry jam, best vegetable marrow. I have no idea what the criteria could be for judging the best gargantuan zuccini.
I had the misfortune day before yesterday to turn my back on a zuccini—or courgette, as they say here—therefore today, I have a vegetable marrow. Here in England, I’m reliably advised, such things are split, scooped, stuffed, and baked. I was given a recipe by someone who stuffs the things with a mixture of aubergines (that’s eggplant) and potato and parsnip and turnip and carrot and a bulb of fennel. Tonight I’m going to do battle with my vegetable marrow, but I’m not trying anything nearly as…as ornate as that. I’m stuffing it the way I’d stuff a Bell pepper, and I hope the result will be something edible. If it isn’t, there’s always the chippie (fish and chip shop).
This is just one of the ways that life is better in books. A vegetable marrow in a book is a rare and romantic thing, something foreign, exotic, and infinitely superior to the huge green blimp-like item on the kitchen counter (here called the kitchen surfaces).
And when the children of those who actually grow vegetable marrows on purpose set out into the woods with their torches and their flasks to walk on the rich carpet of leaf mould, the only thing underfoot is the ground. Mould in this case means the surface soil, and leaf mould is just soil with a high proportion of decaying leaves in it.
Marvelous country, indeed.