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Chocolate Z Cake
Saturday, July 27, 2013
In a period of about 36 hours this week, I picked five sizeable zucchini from my vegetable garden.
Now, before you email me to suggest that I should plant fewer zucchini plants next year, you should know that I have one zucchini plant in my garden. One very large zucchini plant that has begun to bear, and, apparently, to bear heavily.
Perhaps you are also awash in zucchini, and, if so, you may be wondering what the heck I’m doing writing an article about zucchini? Who needs to know how to grow more zucchini?
But there’s more to summer squash than just zucchini, with a wide range of other varieties to grow, and blossoms to enjoy.
Secret is in the harvest
What works for growing zucchini is pretty much the same thing that works for growing other summer squash. Grow them in the heat of the summer and plan to pick often.
The real trick to growing summer squash lies in the harvest — and, specifically, picking when the squash is young and small. That means that you need to check your squash at least every other day when they start bearing.
Zucchini grows so quickly, it almost seems like you could stand in your
garden and watch it grow. It tastes best when you pick the fruit when it is about 4 to 5 inches long. The plants will bear for a long time if you pick often, but you will start to see your yield decline after a month or so.
Yellow summer squash comes in both straightneck and crookneck varieties. Straightneck squash should also be picked at a length of about 4 to 5 inches. Crookneck squash, which grows a thicker skin, should be harvested when it is slightly smaller.
Cousa squash looks like a cross between a zucchini and a straightneck squash. The fruit is pale greenish yellow and classically shaped, and the flavor is distinctive. Harvest cousa squash when it grows to about 3 inches. Cousa squash is prolific, and frequent harvesting will result in frequent fruits.
Pattypan, or scallop, squash has round, yellow or green fruit with scalloped edges. Pick it when it is about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Again, if you harvest often, the plants will continue to bear fruit all summer long.
Don’t forget the flowers
One of my friends grows zucchini solely for the squash blossoms. Squash blossoms are a culinary treat that can be found in both farmhouse kitchens and fine restaurants.
Squash plants produce lots of male blooms to ensure that the female blooms become pollinated. You can harvest both male and female blossoms, but if you also want squash, harvest just the male blooms and leave the female blooms intact to bear fruit. Be sure to leave a few male blossoms so that female blooms are pollinated.
You can identify the male blossoms by their thinner, straighter stems, and by the location of a stamen in the center of the flower. The female blooms have a thicker stem with a small bulge at the base, which is the beginning of a tiny squash.
Harvest the blossoms in midday when they are full-sized and just beginning to open. Cut them from the plant, leaving about 1 inch of stem on the blossom.
Rinse the blossoms in cool water and, if you’re not ready to prepare them, put them in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator for no more than a day or two. Male blossoms will retain their flavor longer if you pinch off the stamen in the inside.
You will find lots of suggestions online, but most commonly, squash blossoms are battered and fried or stuffed first with cheese and herbs. Baking and steaming are also options for preparing the blooms, or you can add them fresh to salads.
Now, what about all that zucchini?
If you’ve also got a boatload of zucchini to use up and the neighbors have started avoiding you, don’t despair.
Yes, you can hit the Internet and come up with 101 ways to use zucchini, but one thing you will notice that comes up over and over are recipes for zucchini desserts.
I recall hearing the words “zucchini” and “dessert” together for the first time as a teenager and thinking what a weird idea that was. No doubt, my mother had been sneaking it into desserts for years without admitting it.
Zucchini is a natural for dessert baking as its high moisture content helps to keep baked goods moist.
Plus, here’s an opportunity to enjoy dessert by rationalizing that it also contains a serving of veggies!
Breads and cakes are good choices for baking with zucchini. A classic southern favorite is chocolate zucchini cake, which in my house is called Chocolate Z Cake. Calling it by its full name would be certain to cause my 8-year-old to refuse chocolate cake.
This mom passes on her tip to those of you with children who are suspicious of anything green: Puree the zucchini in your blender and add it with your wet ingredients for all the health benefits of zucchini with zero detectability by a child.
If you have too much to enjoy now, all summer squash freezes well, so prep it and freeze it and enjoy a summer treat this winter.
Come visit my blog for more talk about summer gardening at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth.
Karen Hager’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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