After a recent trip, I returned home to find that our small garden had become a Jurassic jungle. The squirrels had eaten some of the vegetables, but they left the squash plants alone. These plants can get prickly and squirrels find easier pickings with the tomatoes and fruit trees. Under the giant foliage, I found some zucchinis (summer squash) that already were nearing the size of baseball bats.
Squash plants growing in a garden. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by Barbara Samuel.
Zucchini is the young fruit of the squash plant, while these plants are better known for their orange-fleshed fruits that mature later in the year. In this family (closely related to cucumbers and melons) are pumpkins, butternut squash, Hubbard squash, acorn squash, and many other varieties of winter squash. They’re called winter squash because they can be stored and eaten during the cold months, even though these vegetables are generally harvested before the coldest weather arrives.
Zucchini (summer squash) is softer and it doesn’t last. So unless you freeze, can/pickle or dehydrate it for later use, you need to be ready to eat it within a few days. And when the summer weather arrives, the garden is producing additional zucchini on a daily basis. My problem is compounded this year because a couple of the squash plants I planted were labelled as winter squash, but actually turned out to be zucchinis (in addition to the others I planted). During the summer, 1-2 such plants can supply a family with plenty of zukes, but I ended up with 5 of them. So we have more summer squash than we can eat.
Risotto with Zucchini and other veggies. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by jeffreyww.
In the first couple of weeks, no one seems to mind eating fresh zucchini. The family menu includes stir-fried zucchini, zucchini soup, and zucchini omelets. You can make thin zucchini slices and stir-fry them with a little oil, garlic, and salt. This is a quick, tasty vegetable side dish that’s also good for you.
By the third week, though, kids are complaining that they’re tired of eating zuchhini. That’s when we switch to zucchini pizza, zucchini muffins, and other dishes that do a good job of hiding the green stuff within other strong flavors. When in doubt, bake it into something (like muffins) or cover it with plenty of sauce or cheese. If you keep some grated zucchini around, you can drop a bit of it into just about anything for a small boost of additional vitamins and minerals.
Grated and sauteed zucchini with pesto and a little cheese over flatbread. Author photo.
Zucchini muffins. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by joyosity.
As the zucchini season reaches its peak, the neighbors start receiving gifts. Initially, they’re happy to share in the bounty also. After all, if one of them has too many lemons or persimmons or plums, they’ll be bringing those over to us when that time comes. Share the wealth.
But after a couple of neighborly deliveries of zukes, even the neighbors have had enough. They don’t look too happy to see you anymore. Then they stop coming to the door. When you ring their doorbells, suddenly no one is home. And if you leave the zucchini on their doorstep, who knows what they really do with it?
Carved zucchini, which was part of a contest at a fair. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by thievingjoker.
When you just can’t eat another bite of summer squash, there are alternatives that involve wasting food. The zucchini skins are not hard enough to be dried and used like gourds for making into lanterns or decorations. Some good ideas include using zucchinis for carving, for target practice, or for playing baseball (the really big ones). Unless you are playing with foam Nerf balls or light whiffle balls, the bat will get shredded pretty quickly by any harder ball, but shredding it is fun also. Since the Fourth of July (Independence Day in the U.S.) is approaching, fireworks are popular, and some kids have bought firecrackers. When I was young, I remember rigging up a large zucchini with some firecrackers in such a way that it blows up into a million pieces.
Zukes at a market. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by streamishmc.
The rest gets frozen. We’ve tried canning or dehydrating it, but for us that’s more trouble than it’s worth for zucchini. To freeze this stuff, I usually chop it or shred it with a grater. Then it can go in small Tupperware-type containers or Ziploc freezer bags and frozen. Long after zucchini season is done, we can take these out and defrost them or put the frozen zucchini directly into soups, stews, or stir-fry recipes. It’s best to freeze them in small quantities that are usable. If you freeze it into too big of a bag or container, then you find yourself trying to hack out some frozen zucchini from a big block of icy zukes. It’s much more efficient to keep it in smaller quantities, just a few servings in each one for easy use.
Oh, and I almost forgot: the dog gets some zucchini, too. Squash is good for dogs, but only in limited doses. Pumpkin or winter squash is great for their digestion and helps against worms. But even if I was tempted to unload more of it on my dog, he is too smart to eat very much of it. Put some zucchini in his bowl and he won’t touch it. But I can cook him an egg or some chicken and include a handful or two of shredded zucchini.
Eat it, dog. It’s good for you.
Top and bottom images are by the author. Others are credited within the text.