Florida is a great place to live because I can grow vegetables all year long. I’ve got beautiful tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and herbs available at my fingertips, yet for some reason, I cannot grow zucchini. But, when I lived up north, zucchini was the plague of every backyard farmer.
Shopping bags full of overgrown zucchini were left on my doorstep by a neighbor after ringing the doorbell and running away. This is considered the cruelest of pranks played on the unwary in the Northern states when our gardens are overflowing with the pithy, green monsters. Alas, now that I live in Florida, I’m lacking the gardening skills needed to grow zucchini. You’d think this would be a blessing, but how I miss the challenge of using up zucchini in creative ways, so not a single squash goes uneaten or unloved.
There are several zucchini festivals held throughout the country where zucchini is considered the king of all vegetables, and festival-goers are known to dress their zucchini in cute outfits for a zuke fashion show, or attach wheels to them and race them down Main Street. I, however, prefer to turn them into relishes, pickles, pancakes, quiches, and even low-carb hash browns. Larger varieties can be stuffed like peppers, and with a special gizmo called a spiral slicer, you can even make spaghetti with your zucchini.
I discovered that the growing season for zucchini in Florida is not the same as the north. It prefers to be planted in September and October, or January and February. But it makes no difference to me what time of year zucchini is at its peak, as my cyclical cravings and planting charts cannot seem to come together. At one point I talked to one of the farmers at the farmers market, wondering why I can’t grow zucchini here, and his answer is “Bees. You need more bees.” Zucchini should one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate in temperate climates, but in parts of Florida where many of us live in mosquito spray districts, the flower cannot be pollinated properly. So when I need zucchini, I buy them at my local farmers market.
It seems absurd to spend money on zucchini, yet I must have them. My favorite thing to make with fresh zucchini is zucchini cake – it’s dense and moist, speckled with green, and dotted with golden raisins. The icing is made of goat cheese and cream cheese, and the sides of the cake are covered with chopped pecans. This cake will feed at least a dozen or more zucchini-loving guests, and at about 1,800 calories per slice, you might opt not to eat any dinner that night, and just eat cake.
The cake recipe I like to use is a handwritten scribble on a scrap of lined paper that I’ve coveted for years, and I have no idea where it came from. But it’s a basic carrot cake recipe where I will substitute zucchini for the grated carrots. It’s a no-fail recipe – seems no matter how you throw the ingredients together, it always comes out perfect. And you only need about three or four small zucchini to make this cake, but I always buy three or four baskets. Why so much, you ask? To leave some on my neighbor’s doorstep, of course!
(A portion of this story originally appeared in Jacksonville Magazine.)