The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

the very marrow

I’ve reached a point where the OED is of no use, for it cannot tell me why some people call them zucchini and other people call them courgettes, nor can it tell me on earth they were not more popular before the mid-twentieth century. The most it can say is that the young fruit of cucurbita pepo (that curious squash from the Americas) can, according to the bizarre British custom of letting them grow until they are much too large and rather tasteless, be called vegetable marrow,1 which fact, frankly, I did not need to know.

once a zucchini, courgette, now a marrow
Fig. 1

Thankfully, The Oxford Companion to Food is rather more informative: although Italian immigrants carried the notion of cooked zucchini to the US, courgettes appeared on British tables after a rather more formal introduction via a cookbook and, whether it be a cultural prejudice in favor of French food, or a lack of fondness for Italian words, or yet some other factor I will not at present imagine, courgettes they there remain. The Companion entry notes, however:

In the 1920s, when the learned Dr Leclerc was writing, the French still referred to courgettes d’Italie, and it seems clear that it was the Italians who first marketed vegetable marrows in small size; and it is therefore appropriate to choose their name zucchini rather than the French name courgettes as the adopted English name.2

Pragmatics perhaps explains cucurbita pepo’s lack of popularity: if one assumes they are always merely marrows, who would want to eat them?

  1. Defined as follow: ‘(a) the fruit of the avocado, Persea gratissima (obs.) (b) (chiefly Brit.) any of various kinds of squash or gourd which are chiefly the fruits of varieties of Cucurbita pepo, eaten as a vegetable; esp. one of the larger round or cylindrical kinds with green, white, or striped skins and greenish-white or (occas.) yellowish pulpy flesh; (also) the plant producing these, a trailing or sometimes bushlike annual with deep yellow flowers; cf. courgette, zucchini’. []
  2. Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, OUP, 1999, s.v. zucchini (cf. vegetable marrow, squash). []


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