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The many wonders and uses of zucchini

Karen Wils photo Zucchini grilled with other veggies is so awesome!

ESCANABA — Some of the best things in life are free — and that’s the way it should be with zucchini.

I remember one cold, blustery, January day, standing in the “produce aisle” and eyeing up some cute little zucchini squashes for my stir fry.

Out of season, this little squash seems expensive and silly. But in the summertime, zucchinis should be everywhere.

Zucchini in salad, in hot dishes, in breads, cakes and pickles — yes, this prolific fruit can take on many culinary flavors.

What starts out as a small almond-shaped seed tamped into the barren garden soil the last weekend in May is, in August, a jungle of green vines.

Beneath the sea of green hides the deep emerald, perky squashes.

One day, they’re tiny, little clubs, and the next, they’re gigantic baseball bats.

My earliest memories of zucchinis come from my Grandpa Rose’s garden in Gladstone. Between rows of sweet corn and walls of pole beans, zucchini plants ran wild in his huge garden. On Sunday mornings after church, we’d often visit. Grandpa would stalk through the veggies, sneak up on some unsuspecting zucchinis, and harvest them with his pocket knife.

We kids were delighted. We always wanted the biggest squashes, of course, and this meant more work for Mom. Lightly breaded and fried was the traditional way that my Grandma Rose prepared zucchini. So my Mom, too, had to slice, seed and deep fry oodles of zucchini like onion rings.

Over the years, Mom discovered many other favorite zucchini recipes. Zucchini spiced and baked in a pie to taste just like apples, zucchini chopped into chunky salsa with peppers, and, my favorite, shredded zucchini in a chocolate cake are a few common recipes.

A garden-fresh zucchini about 8 inches long is great for slicing into the steamer. Once the squash is tender, drizzle it with olive oil or your favorite margarine and add snips of dill weed, cilantro or basil from the herb garden. Parmesan cheese can give it an extra zest.

The real beauty of zucchini is that anyone can grow it. This summer squash like most others has its roots (originated) in the Americas. In the late 19th century, Italy developed the plant that produces the modern-day zucchini. Sometimes called “courgette,” the zucchini is used in making ratatouille. Its blossoms are deep fried as a delicacy called tempura.

From zucchini pancakes to zucchini soup, it’s a plant of a thousand uses. Even though we often call it a vegetable, it’s really a fruit of the vine.

If you can, share some zucchini with a friend. It’s like sharing a summer day.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate melted

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter

3 eggs beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1/3 cup cocoa

2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup buttermilk

3 cups coarsely grated zucchini

1/2 cup of chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 pan. Cream sugar and butter, add eggs and vanilla, stir in chocolate mixed with oil. Add other ingredients; mix well. Pour into pan bake for 40 minutes or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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