Back in 2006, I came across a short article in The Park Slope Courier about a young boy who planted some mysterious beans. The article went on to describe how the boy and his father had come across a seed packet in a local hardware store, but they had not been able to identify the plant. There was a picture of the fourth grader holding up what looked like a four and a half foot long string bean. That and the headline were enough to inspire me to write my own version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
The book came out five years later in 2011. In the years since, I have shared the newspaper clipping with school groups up and down the East Coast without knowing the identity of the plant. A couple of weeks ago while visiting PS41 in the Bronx, the mystery was solved. As I prepared to begin my presentation, I showed the school librarian, Mrs. Mazzanti, the newspaper clipping and she exclaimed. “It’s a cucuzza!” Latin name: Lagenaria siceraria.
It is a squash, not a bean and originated in Italy. Mrs. M kindly printed out some photographs of her cucuzza plant, the pollination process and some of her kitchen preparations with the vegetable. She told me it tastes like a mild zucchini and makes a delicious soup. Now to track down some seeds of my own and get planting!
Cucuzzas also have their own website! Click here to see more.