The Zucchini Invasion

Our vegetable garden is doing marvelously well this year.

Boy, is it doing well.

We’ve already harvested rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries (both red and black), lettuces, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, kale, peas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes and some green beans – many more of those are on the way.  We’re about to start harvesting peppers – bell, jalapeno, serrano, poblano – as well as the cabbages; tomatoes will be ready soon, too.  The onions are coming along, as are the sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, and the spaghetti and delicata squashes doing quite nicely.  It also looks like we’re going to have quite a few cantaloupe and even a couple of Sugar Baby watermelons.

I think the only things we’re not going to see much of are butternut squash, parsnips and okra, which is sad – Beloved and I both adore them.  But, when we’re ready to harvest the late summer/fall vegetables, we’ll be able to plant more greens and cool weather crops; in fact, I think Beloved’s already got a second round of peas going, as well as more radishes, turnips and beets.

And of course, there’s the zucchini and summer squash.

Tons and tons of zucchini and summer squash; not only are our own plants producing like the vegetable version of gerbils, we’re getting an average of six pounds a week from our CSA. (When we pass roadside stands or booths at farmers markets heaped with piles and piles of the stuff, we just shudder.)

We’ve been cooking and eating it several times a week – often for lunch and dinner.  Before too much longer I’m going to go on a zucchini bread baking binge, the vast majority of which will be given away to our co-workers and friends; the rest will be frozen and most likely consumed over the holidays (Oldest Son is coming to visit for Christmas! Hooooooraaaaaay!!)  In the meantime, we’ve been freezing a great deal of it for use during the winter and early spring months, before we face next year’s Zucchini Invasion.

Freezing zucchini is really quite easy.  We simply shred it using the shredding blade of our food processor, then measure it out in 1-cup portions.  Those portions are then placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer until completely frozen – usually overnight.  Then we vacuum seal them with our Food Saver and pop them back in the freezer.

Shredded ZucchiniShredded Zucchini Bagged

How do you use all of this frozen, shredded zucchini you may ask?

It’s actually a good question; the first time we did this, I was hard-pressed to use it all.  But, if you think a little outside of the box, it really isn’t hard.

You can use it in Zucchini Fritters, of course, or your favorite zucchini bread or muffin recipe – I never had much luck making paleo zucchini bread; it always came out heavy and/or gummy – but when I go on my baking binge, I’ll probably use this recipe.  However, I mostly hide it in savory foods.

It’s a great addition to meatloaf and meatballs, or the meat filling in stuffed cabbage (especially if you’re grain-free or low carb; it substitutes the rice or bread crumbs quite nicely).  It’s easily hidden in many types of casseroles, including the breakfast type, and is also really good in soups and tomato-based sauces – toss it in the spaghetti sauce AND the meatballs, and you’ve got your kids eating twice as much!  I’ve even thrown it in omelets and quiches.

So embrace the zucchini.  You’ll really be able to eat it all.

Preserving The Harvest

Do you like this month’s theme?  I’m not entirely sure I like the execution of the banner – I wasn’t thinking “long and skinny” when I took the photo and as a result could not get it to fit into the entire banner space (at least so you could tell what it is).  Other than that, though, I’m quite please with it…especially since I threw it together in about 20 minutes last night. 🙂    It also fits right in with this week’s Spin Cycle, which is “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”  ‘Cause see those jars, fruits and vegetables?  That’s basically what I’ve spent the summer doing:  obtaining, cooking, preserving and eating locally and sustainably grown food.

Let’s take an inventory of the jars, shall we?  We have chicken stock, beef stock, homemade mayonnaise, lard, carrots, green beans, bread and butter pickles, garlic dill pickles, and tomato sauce.  I forgot the jars of pickled eggs and beets in the fridge in the garage.  I am going to add to all of this before it’s all said and done – more carrots, if I can get enough of them, more green beans, more tomato sauce, apple butter and/or apple sauce, pumpkin pureé, butternut squash pureé, more cucumber pickles, pickled beets and anything else I can get my hands on that’s suitable to can.  And, of course, more beef and chicken stock, as well as lard and tallow.

I’d never thought about canning until last summer.  Beloved was out of town on one of his extended business trips, The Young One was in Texas and I was alone for the weekend.  Saturday morning I visited the Podunk farmer’s market and the folks who became my CSA co-op providers had a ton of extra roma tomatoes, which are really the best kind for sauces.  I bought a huge box of them, then made a trip to WalMart and purchased a water-bath canner and two cases of pint jars.  I spent the rest of the day peeling, seeding, chopping and cooking the tomatoes down to a sauce, then carefully sanitizing the jars and lids.  When it was all said and done, I had four whole pints of tomato sauce.

Yes.  Four.  Undeterred, I purchased more tomatoes the next week and canned four more jars of tomato sauce.

What I was unprepared for was how much I enjoyed the whole canning process.  Yes, it can be a lot of hard work and you need a pressure canner once you begin preserving stocks, meats and non-acidic fruits and vegetables (while a water bath canner is relatively inexpensive, a good quality pressure canner will set you back a few bucks), but it also quite rewarding.  And once I got over my fear of killing my entire family with botulism, I found that taking those jars off the shelf and using the contents gave me a satisfaction that was equally surprising.  I knew what was in them, and the sauce tasted far better than anything I’d ever purchased at the store, organic or not.

This year, I already have a lot more tomato sauce put away – 16 pints so far – and I plan to have a lot more before it’s all said and done.  Of course, I’m still learning – do NOT cook the carrots before you pressure can them, or they will be way too soft (but still tasty) – but in many ways I already feel like a “pro.”  And it’s helped that I am no longer worried that my pressure canner is going to “go ‘splode,” as Darling Daughter puts it (you can cook in it too, which is beginning to intrigue me).  But mostly, it makes our determination to eat locally and sustainably as much as possible so much easier, even in the winter.

If anyone is interested in the process – and recipes – for all of this, let me know.  I’ll be thrilled to post all about it in the coming weeks.

Next up:  learning how to get the most out of our dehydrator.  Beef jerky, anyone?