Thursday, February 24, 2011

For the love of zucchini

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.


Mama Pea said...

Oh gosh, that sounds good. But, I agree, kinda finicky also. Couldn't I just buy a few jars from you? With the time and effort you put into them, they shouldn't cost much more than $24.95 per pint, right? ;o) But this post of yours does make me think of my Zucchini Relish (just opened another jar yesterday) that I could do a blog post entry on. The way time goes, we'll all be looking for zucchini recipes before we know it!

Cary Ann said...

I will have to try that out this year. I made a zucchini jam last year that was pretty good and the kiddies loved it. It has pineapple in it. I love trying to find new ways to use up all those wonderful veggies.

Erin said...

I still refuse to grow it, LOL... somehow I end up with plenty though... was that you?! This marmalade looks good. I was at a bbq last summer and one of the girls made a zucchini casserole (hotdish to me)! It had lots of cubed squashes, bread crumb topping, standard cream of whatever soups in it, the standard casserole stuff but it was tasty and another great way to eat it. This bbq was a "get rid of zucchini" party where everyone had to make a zucchini dish to try :)

Judy T said...

OO, that does sound yummy. My children insist that I grow broccoli again this year. And cauliflower. Zucchini- not so much but we'll plant some anyway.
Judy said...

Mama Pea -- hahahaha! Think I could make my millions with this marmalade? Hmmm.. I don't think so either. And yes, please do a post on your relish. I have a recipe that I'm not really keen on and I'd love to learn about yours!

Cary Ann -- zucchini jam with pineapple sounds delicious!!! I bet my kids would love that too...

Erin -- hahaha -- you're on to me! Yes, that was me sneaking around :) I can't believe you refuse to grow anything! You are one of my green thumb inspirations! Maybe I should have a 'get rid of zucchini party' -- or just plant less zucchini!

Judy -- We've never grown broccoli -- this will be our first year trying it. My kids love eating it, so I hope they'll enjoy growing it. I'm not sure about the cauliflower... I've got the impression (perhaps misguided) that it's fussy... maybe something to look into (like I need something else on our 'must grow' list!)

Mr. H. said...

I think I have said this before but I just love how you involve your children in the garden, such a wonderful learning experience for them. That gingered zucchini marmalade sounds wonderful and I will be stealing this recipe from you...we love ginger and zucchini around here.:) said...

Thanks, Mr. H! I must admit that it's not always easy to get them into the garden, especially when there are other fun things like hopscotch and tree swings, frogs and basketballs. We have squabbles over weeding -- do they really have to weed two buckets, and why does Ella's bucket look smaller than Jack's? - but I do love that they're fostering a connection between the garden and their food. I can only hope they learn to love digging in the dirt like I do, but even if they don't, I believe they'll have an appreciation for those who do.

Deanna said...

Ah, zucchini. I too love growing zucchini even though I see my dear husband's eyes roll even now. One thing you can do with this is make zucchini pancakes (like a potato pancake) and freeze them. I made tons one year and they freeze really well. I just thaw them and pat them with a towel, since they are kind of moist, heat them up and eat them. YUM!

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