Overzealous Zucchini Fruits
I was very fortunate. My brother has a vegetable garden into which I had recently invested several truck-loads of horse manure (reference “How Does Your Garden Grow” post back in February 07 archive), so he was more than willing to allow me an allotment in his growing patch. I managed to plant some of my seeds there on a drizzly day in May. The obligatory (and adored) pumpkins were planted, along with lettuce, beans, dill, carrots, and zucchini. I had already started tomatoes, basil, and eggplants in pots before we even envisioned ourselves moving, so besides eeking out a miserly existence in their neglected and pot-bound state, all of those crops survived and made the voyage. Oh yes, and the voyage was delightful . . . two full loads of plants in a 25’ long box-truck. Yeah, I was in denial that we had THAT many potted plants to move, but at least we only moved 8 miles away.
That day that I sowed my seeds in my brother’s garden, I had every intention of visiting them regularly and especially of harvesting the zucchini in a timely fashion. Nothing is more universally groaned at, by those in the know, than an over-sized zucchini fruit. Culinarily inclined gardeners probably all cloister them secretly into the heart of their steaming compost piles and forget about them. Those of you who grew up with a gardening parent, probably suffered through more than one preparation of monster zucchini. In fact, one of the stories my husband told me while we were first getting to know each other, and which stirred adoration in my heart, was a tale of his father’s run-away zucchini patch. See, his father was a minister with three kids to feed on a modest income. No food went to waste. Monster zucchinis were not harmlessly recycled back to the earth . . . they were painstakingly consumed. To the point that once my husband reached young adulthood, he decided he’d had enough jumbo zucchini goulash. One afternoon when he was home alone after school, he paid a visit to the zucchini patch with a bottle of ammonia in hand, and proceeded to pour liberally. Needless to say, his father was absolutely dumbfounded about what earth-scorching blight could possibly have struck his zucchini patch with such sudden and relentless wrath.
I resolved at an early age, that if ever I managed my own zucchini patch (and I never thought I would, by the way), that I would never unleash such a vegetative monster upon the dinner table. I was even convinced, as of this spring, that I would find the time to nip such behemoths in the bud, or rather when they were still of a servable size. But my dear brother recently brought me a bundle of my produce, since I haven’t made it out to his garden in months, complete with just such a specimen. What I haven’t mentioned, until this moment, is that our family finally found a way to enjoy, yes I said enjoy, these green giants.
It all happened when we were on summer vacation. My parents got it in their heads that we should drive cross-country, into the northern heart-lands of America. Among the proposed tourist destinations were places like Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and Mt. Rushmore. As we were just beginning to get a taste for all-day driving sprints, restaurant dinners, and spontaneous hotel choices, and while we were already growing road-weary, we found a site in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho featuring a string of detached cabins that had vacancies posted. It seems that we got a sniff of something sweet and chocolaty baking in an oven behind the clerk at the desk, so we enquired what it might be. That was the moment we acquired the recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Cake. It wasn’t very long before we realized the true beauty of the recipe – that it accommodated over-grown zucchini respectably.
When faced with my recent defeat against the notorious mammoth summer squash, I realized I only had one option, and I did not hesitate. Especially since I was recently suffering from an excruciating chocolate cake craving. Chocolate zucchini cake has got to be one of the easiest chocolate cakes you can throw together. The addition of clove is distinctive. This cake is exceedingly moist. In fact, I thawed some that had been in my freezer for probably several years (I know, I know, bad form for a foodie) and it did not suffer freezer burn at all. It was, in fact, divine! The chocolate chips sprinkled on top add melt-in-your-mouth interest, so that you won’t feel a whim to whip up any goopy frosting. The best part – you can make it in one bowl and bake it in one pan. Even better, for those cooking in half-baked (gadget deprived) kitchens, as I am at the moment, I easily managed to mix it up with just four commonly-used utensils: one large spoon, a set of teaspoons, a single half-cup measurer, and a grater. Life is good.
CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
In a large bowl, cream together:
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup oil
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
2 cups unsifted flour
4 Tbsp cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
2 cups grated raw zucchini – I grated my large zucchini straight over the bowl
Pour into a greased 9 x 12 pan, or into muffin tins.
¼ cup chocolate chips – I usually use more, a couple of handfuls
Bake at 350° F for 40 to 45 minutes.
Best served at least one day after baking. Freezes well.