Zucchini has its own holiday

Zucchini squash are everywhere right now. Even if you don't have a garden, bags of the green fruits seem to magically appear on doorsteps, cars and in mailboxes. It seems that everyone has an excess and want to share with as many people as possible. In fact, it even has its own holiday. August 8th is the official Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day! This time of year, zucchini gets very little love, however with a bit of creativity, it can go from savory to sweet and be used in many different ways. I'll take any zucchini that my neighbors want to sneak on to my porch anytime.

Zucchini origins

Originating in Mesoamerica, which is the area reaching from central Mexico through Central America and northern South America, the fast growing, productive fruit, for yes, it is botanically classed as a fruit, was cultivated since about 5500 BC. Squash were an important part of the indigenous people's diet and were part of the Three Sisters triad of corn, beans and squash. Trading between the various peoples had the squash spread throughout North and South America by the time Europeans arrived and even the name we know it by now is indigenous in origin. Askutasquash was the name the first settlers to North America were given and they shortened that to simply squash. They were taught to eat the young fruits, the flowers and even set aside the mature pumpkin-like squashes for winter. Even today, there is a resurgence among the First Peoples to return to the foodways of their ancestors and squash is once again an important part of their healthy diets.

zucchini plant

Zucchini returns to the New World

The zucchini as we know it was developed in northern Italy during the 19th Century and the name we know the green-skinned squashes by is a derivative of zucca, which is an Italian name for gourd. The zucchini traveled back across the Atlantic in the early part of the 20th Century with Italian immigrants and made itself at home in the New World once again. This staple of the Italian cuisine was used in many ways. Most often it was roasted or cooked with other vegetables like tomatoes, onions and peppers. Deep frying was also a popular way to serve zucchini. It took several decades for the rest of the U.S. to accept the zucchini as it was viewed as an immigrant food and people were slow to adopt it into their menus. Today, everyone who loves squash, love zucchini and there are hundreds of recipes on the internet to attest to the fact that it is a versatile and tasty food. Zucchini is nutritious as well. It contains iron, potassium and Vitamin C and the ones with the dark green skins are a source of antioxidants. It is even 50% lower in calories than broccoli, with a cup of sliced zucchini only containing 19 calories. Creative cooks have learned to use zucchini to slim down calorie-laden recipes and there are recipes featuring zucchini in veggie burgers, lasagna, brownies and even noodles that replace pasta when a special spiral cutter is used, so there's lots of options.

zucchini burger

Make zucchini burgers

With meat being so expensive right now, substituting zucchini is a great option. It is plentiful, cheap and nutritious. Home made veggie burgers are tasty, inexpensive and you can pronounce all the ingredients. They won't taste like hamburger, however if you give them a chance, they can be an excellent addition to a vegetarian menu or meatless meal. You will need one large zucchini or several small ones that you grate into shreds. I ended up with just over two cups grated. Mix with a teaspoon of salt and let it stand for ten minutes. After that, wrap in cheesecloth or paper towels and squeeze out the liquid. I pressed mine in a colander and kept mixing and turning until it was compacted and the moisture didn't run out when pressed. The salt draws moisture from the squash and leaves it drier, so you can work with it easier. Add a grated carrot, a half cup of finely chopped onion, one egg, (or vegan alternative) fold in ¼ cup of whole wheat flour, ground black pepper and ¼ cup of finely crumbled feta cheese (or vegan alternative.) The mixture is still quite moist, so handle it carefully to keep it from falling apart. Make about 4 or 5 patties (I made 4) and gently place them in your hot, greased skillet. Fry for about five minutes per side on medium-high heat. Dress with your favorite burger toppings. This is also an excellent side dish. The fritters are quite tasty simply as a vegetable and you don't need any sauce or toppings. They are delicious on their own.

Growing zucchini

There's even time to plant zucchini now and have a wonderful harvest. It matures quickly (40 to 55 days depending on the cultivar) and late summer and early autumn plants seem to have fewer pests as well. You can probably find seeds on the markdown rack at the store. Just remember that zucchini are 94% water and if you are experiencing high temperatures and drought conditions, (or full summer heat) supplemental moisture is necessary for a good harvest. Soaker hoses are thrifty and puts the water right at the roots where it is needed most. Even a bucket with a small hole in it makes a great soaker waterer if you don't have the fancy hose. Just fill it up and let it trickle out at the root area every day or so. This also works well if you have to grow your zucchini in a container. Give your squash a container at least the size of a five gallon bucket and partially bury a two liter soda bottle next to the plant. Make sure there is a small hole in the bottom and fill it up every day or so to keep the potting mix moist. Leave the cap off so that gravity takes care of releasing the water. Choose a zucchini variety labeled bush or patio if you are growing in a container since the plants will be more compact than the vining types. They will also have a smaller root system that is better adapted to container life than the full sized versions. Pick zucchini when they reach about four or five inches in length (even larger is fine though) and they will keep producing until frost. Make sure your plants get at least eight hours of full sun each day and more is even better. A balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 is good, or some rich compost if you want to go organic.

Be grateful for a gift of zucchini

Zucchini is easy to grow, cheap to buy, or even get for free. The versatile veggie goes from savory main dish, to brownies, or zucchini bread for dessert and even jam for breakfast. Don't run when someone offers you a bag full because there's so much you can do with it. If you live in an area where no one is making the rounds with bags of excess, simply grow your own. You'll have plenty for yourself and extras to share with family and friends.