Editor’s note: ‘Life on the Farm’ – Zucchini Arrives is Part 2 of the final installment of Dale Bliss’ four-part series, “Life on the Farm – a Memory.” She grew up in Plant City, in Hillsborough County, and has shared her memory of the seasons of farm life. Martha Grigsby, Dale’s sister, also contributed to this final installment. The first half ran Oct. 25.
A symbiotic relationship
To ensure good pollination for his zucchini, Daddy depended on bees. He would allow local beekeepers to keep their hives nearby. He did not want to have to hand-pollinate.
Besides, my family could not imagine “Cowboy George” Perocchi out in the field with a Q-tip trying to accomplish this delicate chore! In addition, it was mutually beneficial for the farmer as well as the beekeeper: We always had plenty of sweet, delicious honey.
After about 60 days, the zucchini field was ready for harvest. The “zuchs,” as Daddy called them, had to be harvested when they were about 4 to 5 inches in length and still immature. This was to ensure that they were tender and tasty. If they were left too long on the vine, the zucchini would grow to enormous lengths and become tasteless and tough.
The squash were harvested three to four times a week. This made way for new squash to develop and produce, and to keep crop production flowing.
Harvest zucchini with care
The stem was thick and had to be cut with a knife, rather than just twisting it off the tender vine. Twisting could result in damaging the squash and the vine. The green delicacies were gently washed and scrubbed clean and then wrapped with paper for protection.
They were packed into half-bushel crates, which were then stacked onto Daddy’s big, white 1-ton Ford truck and whisked away to market – with our hope that the produce buyers would give this newcomer a chance.
The risk paid off, and the “zuchs” became a diamond in the rough, making their way onto the map in Plant City – at that time predominantly ruled by strawberries – thanks to the “cowboy farmer.”
(You might remember, from my recent story “‘Life on the Farm’ – the Packing House,” that Daddy was known for his involvement in bringing this star squash into the spotlight in our hometown.)
Dad makes the front page
Florida Grower and Rancher magazine ran a cover story on the family farm and about Dad’s important contribution in bringing this squash to town. It was so exciting to see Daddy on the front page!
The zucchini squash was not only a hit with the produce buyers, but it quickly became a welcome addition to dinner tables. Although it is officially a fruit, it is, in the kitchen, prepared like a vegetable.
Recipes for this appetizing delicacy are abundant – from a healthy alternative for pasta dishes and casseroles to a tasty dessert like zucchini bread. This squash can be baked, shredded, fried and eaten raw. There is just no end to the uses for this kitchen staple. And the eating doesn’t stop with the squash; the blooms are another sought-after culinary delight.
I often wonder whether Mother was as optimistic about Daddy’s choice to take a chance with this “green giant.”
Well, Mom … Dad knew what he was doing, so all turned out well. Of course, the other farmers had let George take the risk, but they quickly jumped on the “farm wagon” when they saw his success. With higher supply, though, the price fell.
But Daddy was a true farmer, and he was happy to plow the ground first and to help pave the way for other true and dedicated farmers.
Daddy was a true friend, which made him a true farmer, just as his loyal friend and co-farmer, Carl Grooms, was.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my stories as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you. Daddy was not just a farmer; he was a true cowboy, as his nickname implies. His rodeo days and bull-riding escapades were where it all started.
Happy farming! Happy memories! We’re always a farmer’s daughters.
Dale Bliss feels blessed to be able to live on the same Plant City farm where she was born and raised.