There comes a point in late summer when my ability to use zucchini is outpaced by the rate at which it is produced by my garden. I know I’m not alone in this; we’ve all heard the jokes about small-town folks only locking their car doors during zucchini season lest someone leave a summer squash on their front seat. The zucchini’s reputation for over-enthusiastic production is justified; the amount of oblong fruit one plant can create is, frankly, shocking at times, as is the growth rate for said fruits. Some find the summer zucchini bonanza overwhelming. For me, the phrase “surprise and delight” comes to mind. As in: “To my surprise and delight, I discovered yet another stealth zucchini.” (That’s the fruit that develops unseen, hidden by its host’s giant serrated leaves, until it is finally revealed and it’s so huge you can’t imagine how you possibly missed it).
I love zucchini, and a lot of that love comes from its ridiculous abundance. Abundance encourages generosity. It makes us feel safe giving away our treasures. It allows us to fill our stomachs immediately, fill our freezers and pantries for later, and—yes, I’m going to say it—fill our hearts by giving the stuff away. Last summer I grew two zucchini plants. Reasonable, I thought, for a family of four. Turns out there’s nothing reasonable about zucchini. Along with grilling, sautéing, baking, spiralizing, freezing, and canning, we ended up making regular deposits on our neighbour’s porches, and at peak times, leaving them on our front lawn with a sign reading, “Help! We grew too much zucchini!”
The other reason for my love of zucchini is its unpretentiousness. Zucchini is, given the right conditions (sun, rich soil, space), dead easy to grow. No need to start it indoors, just poke a few seeds in the ground, water, and wait for the bounty. **
Then there’s the way zucchini challenges you creatively. After all, there’s only so much zucchini bread you can bake (and frankly, two hours’ time to use up only two cups of shredded squash doesn’t make sense when you’re faced with mountains of the stuff). In the past my harvests have fueled our insatiable appetite for grilled vegetables, but last year, even the barbeque couldn’t keep up. Thankfully, 2016 was the maybe-not-official-but-may-have-well-have-been Year of the Spiralizer. Skeptical at first of adding another gadget to our pantry, I finally succumbed (under the weight of an armload of zucchini, no doubt) and bought one. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, the spiralizer was life—and meal—changing (our favourite: warm zucchini noodles with burst tomatoes and grilled halloumi).
Fresh eating isn’t the only way to use zucchini, of course. If you’re into canning, zucchinis make a mean relish. Our favourite jarred zucchini product, however, tastes nothing like squash. The recipe, which comes from a friend of my mom, is titled, “Marrow Cream.” I make the sweet, lemony spread every year, but call it “Faux Lemon Curd” (a more appealing appellation in my book). Also last year, I discovered that contrary to popular (or at least my) belief, zucchini can be frozen. No, you can’t use it like you would fresh, raw zucchini, but shredded and vacuum packed, frozen zucchini can be defrosted, squeezed for excess water, and used in baking, frittatas, and other goodies.
Didn’t plant any zucchini this year but hungry for zucchini fritters, muffins, or noodles? Try asking a gardening neighbour: chances are, if they don’t have one today, they will tomorrow.
Trouble with growing zucchini?
**Okay, it’s not always that simple. Zucchini that isn’t as prolific as you’ve been led to expect is probably suffering from poor pollination, marked by “baby” zucchinis rotting at the flower end. These are female flowers that have not been pollinated. An immediate solution is to get in there and play matchmaker, moving pollen from the male flowers (the ones affixed to a long stem rather than a baby fruit) to the female flowers. A longer-term solution is to attract more pollinators to your garden—for example, by adding nectar-rich flowers and a water source. Zucchini can also be affected by powdery mildew, which looks like a dusting of flour across the top of its leaves. It’s typically caused by damp conditions and poor air circulation and is rarely fatal.
Marrow Cream (aka Faux Lemon Curd)
1 large (16” zucchini)
3 cups white sugar
1/4 lb. Butter
Rind and juice of 2 lemons
Peel and roughly cube zucchini. Cook until tender (adding a minimal amount of water, if necessary, to prevent sticking). Drain any excess liquid. Pulse in food processor until smooth. Combine with remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes. Spoon into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath.