All Hail to the Squash

First rooted in Italian soil, it made its way to America in the 1920s.  Cylindrical in shape, its firm glossy skin is often streaked green and yellow making it look striped. Mild in flavor, its soft and tender flesh can taste slightly sweet to lightly bitter.  I am definitely a fan, and what I like most about it is, how truly versatile it can be. You can sauté it, stuff it, and even fry it!  You can chop it, shave it, and finely slice it, too. You can enhance its yumminess by combining it with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. And you can spice it up with basil, rosemary, and sage. But, in my humble opinion, drizzling it with a squeeze of lemon, a little olive oil and capers, tastes best. While most people refer to it as a vegetable, it contains seeds and its blossoms are edible, so botanically speaking, it is a fruit. Call them courgettes, marrow, or plain ol’ zucchini, they are available year-round but peak from May to July.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the town of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts has paid homage to them in late summer. With an abundance of zucchini available then, what better time to hold a festival and enjoy them in a myriad of ways!

We learned of this celebration years ago when Robert, the collector of all tees humorous, received a Zucchini Festival shirt for his birthday.  Wearing it, people would stop and ask him questions. “Is your shirt a joke?” and “What do you do at a zucchini festival?” and ”What kind of people would actually honor zucchini?” Only knowing the answer to the first one, we knew we had to attend this event so Robert would be able to educate others, any time the need arose.

Robert’s Birthday Tee!

So…way back in 2003, the Cultural Council in West Stockbridge got together to brainstorm ideas for an attraction that would round out the other summer events held annually in Western Massachusetts.  What would bring people in? What could be their draw? Lenox had Tanglewood concerts. Becket’s magnet was ballet at Jacob’s Pillow and Pittsfield, it claimed to have the best 4th of July parade on the ENTIRE east coast. Wow!  So, what was left? What would truly put West Stockbridge on the map?  Maybe…a Zucchini Festival? Yes! Why, of course!! A Zucchini Festival!

Dressy Zuke!

And so with a few dozen volunteers, some merch, food, contests and games, a tribute to the underdog of the garden was born.  And seven years after its inception, we finally got to be a part of the action.

From my journal: August 12, 2010,  E. Twickenham, England

“Headed to Lee to see mom, Ray, and friends… We’ve “picked” (ha!!) a good time to go…we’ll make it to the Zucchini Festival this time!”

We missed the Pet Parade that kicked off the celebration at 10 a.m. the morning of August 14th  – which was too bad.  If we had been there, we may have gotten to see Gene Shalit award the prize for best costume. You may remember him from The Today Show or more so, his furry moustache!   

We also weren’t present for the zucchini recipe bake-off, decorating contest, or the zucchini weigh in, but when we did arrive, there was still so much to see and do…and only four hours left to do it in! We started with the games and activities. And while we were spectators more than participants, just about everything made us laugh. There was a fireman’s dunking booth, which would’ve been more fun, had we known the firemen.  There was the wildly popular rubber ducky drop into the Williams River with a fever-pitch race to the finish line! There was a tractor pulled gondola that let festival goers give their feet a rest. There was Zocket Toss, a bean bag game for the little ones.  And my there was my favorite, the “catapult a zucchini into a dumpster” activity!  What a splat – I mean, blast!

Sounds Delish!

Next, it was time to treat our taste buds. The smell of greasy goodness drew me to a fried zucchini booth. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the crunchy salty seasoned zuke spears. (They didn’t disappoint!)  Zucchini soup, bread, fritters, brownies, pastries, and cakes, were on display, too, tantalizing any passerby.

At around 5:00 p.m. the main street, appropriately named Center Street, was cleared and the music began. David Grover of Shenandoah, who also played with Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger at times, entertained the young folks with his children’s music, while Berkshire Bateria performed the smooth sounds of samba. We danced. We sang. And a few hours later, a fantastic fireworks display lit up the sky!  We oohed. We aahed.

Many times since then, and really any time Robert dons his tee shirt, we reminisce about the Zucchini Festival. Recalling all of the entertainment, fare, and with a reverent nod to the people.  And what kind of people actually honor zucchini, as is often asked?  I’d have to say, they are…without a doubt… quirky, charming, and community-spirited people. My kind of people, for sure. 

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