The kids and I were working on our seed "wish list" the other day (yes, while some of you are coddling your seedlings, out here in zone 5a we're still at the dreaming stage) and I thought it was fun to see what was on each of their 'must-grow' list.
Jack wanted to grow pumpkins, beans, peas, tomatoes and watermelon; Ella agreed, and added cucumbers, corn, peppers, carrots and of course, sunflowers.
When I asked if there was anything else, she put one hand on her hip, the other to her chin (as if to scratch a non-existent beard) before blurting out, "Zucchini, mama.... zucchini! We can't forget the zucchini."
Despite warnings to exercise restraint when planting this prolific summer squash, I always transplant one or two extras, just 'in case'. Invariably, I end up producing enough to feed a small country.
But I love growing zucchini. When I'm battling Japanese beetles and tomato hornworms, while struggling to figure out the best way to stake tomatoes and cucumbers, it takes just one look at those elephant ear-sized leaves and the beautiful, shiny baseball bat-sized fruits to make me feel like a gardening guru.
OK, I know you're not supposed to let them grow that big. But the kids get such a kick out of monster vegetables.
But I also hate food going to waste. Once I've exhausted the number of people I can foist zucchini on to (watch for me on August 8th as I celebrate National Sneak Some Zucchini on to your Neighbour's Porch Day!) then I start getting creative. Zucchini sneaks into every recipes, from breads to dips, soups to sauces to cookies.
Last August, I was planning on making a batch of zucchini pickles and some relish, but then I got distracted by this recipe for Gingered Zucchini Marmalade -- and it uses five cups of shredded peeled zucchini, or 10 cups if you double the recipe!
It's a bit finicky, but worth it.
Here it is:
• 2 oranges
• 2 lemons
• 3 tbsp chopped ginger root
• 5 cups shredded, peeled zucchini
• 1 tart apple, cored and grated
• 4 cups granulated sugar
1.) Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from each orange in one long strip. (Step one and it's already finicky. Hang in there!) Cut orange peel into thin strips and place in a large deep stainless steel saucepan. Set aside.
2.) Remove white pith from oranges and peel and pith from lemon. (Yes, more finickyness. It gets better.) Set fruit aside.
3.) Tie orange and lemon pith and peel and ginger root in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Add to sauce pan. (See, that was easy.)
4.) Working over the saucepan to catch juice and using a small sharp knife, separate orange and lemon segments from membrane. Place segments in saucepan and squeeze membrane to remove as much juice as possible, collecting it in the saucepan. Discard membrane and seeds. (OK, I admit, this part was quite tedious.)
5.) Add zucchini, apple and sugar to saucepan and mix well Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil hard, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches gel stage, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. If gel stage has been reached, skim off foam. Discard spice bag.
6.) Meanwhile, prepare canner, jar and lids. Ladle hot marmalade into hot jars, leave 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace. Wipe rim, centre lid and screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
7.) Place in hot water canner, ensuring jars are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars, cool and store. Makes about four 8-oz (250 ml) jars.
I admit this might not be the most efficient way to make use of excess zucchini. It's quite time consuming and the outcome is less than if you were to bake and freeze several loaves of zucchini bread.
But if you enjoy preserves like we do, the taste is unlike any store-bought marmalade. And in the depths of winter, when summer still seems so far away, it serves as a cheerful and flavourful reminder of the bounty of our garden.