by Jan Cashman

Along with blondes and mothers-in-law, zucchini are the butt of many jokes. “Plant zucchini only if you have lots of friends.” “Bet you can’t grow just one.” “Lock your car doors in August to prevent your neighbors from putting their extra zucchinis on your back seat.” And the oh-so-true, Murphy’s law statement, “If you plant one zucchini seed, it will die; plant 2 or 3, you will have far too much.”

Zucchini, a summer squash, is a member of the Cucurbia genus, a genus which also includes winter squash, pumpkins, and gourds. Zucchini is low in calories and contains healthy amounts of beta carotene, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and some B if you don’t remove the skin. The majority of the nutrients are found in the skin, so leave the skin on when preparing it, if you can.

There are other summer squash besides the typical zucchini. Some have odd shapes like crookneck and patty pan. Spaghetti squash is popular as a low-calorie substitute for pasta-it looks like spaghetti when cooked, and has a slightly sweet, mild flavor.


Squashes are native to North America. Archeologists have traced their origins to Mexico, dating back to 7000-5500 BC. They were an integral part of the people’s ancient diet of maize, beans, and squash-the “three sisters.” Zucchini eventually found its way to Italy via explorers returning home. Italians renamed it Zucchino. The French call it ‘courgette’, a name then adopted by the English. The first records of zucchini in the United States are in the 1920’s, probably brought back by Italian immigrants. (Sometimes zucchini is called ‘Italian squash.’)


Zucchini is easy to grow in any garden area. Since the vegetable matures in only 45-50 days, you can sow the seeds directly into the ground around June 1; we plant 2-3 seeds per hill. Remember that zucchini, like all squash plants, have no frost tolerance. Fertilize every 2 weeks with a high phosphorous fertilizer. Regular watering is essential-zucchinis are 95% water.

Harvest zucchinis when small-5-6″–for the best taste and texture. The skin should be shiny and dark; the flower might still be attached to the end. The golden yellow flowers are also edible-deep fried, or dipped in a light tempura batter. If some of your zucchinis grow too large (which will happen if you wait one more day to pick them), use them for zucchini bread or cake.


In a few seconds on the internet, I found four zucchini festivals in such varied locations as Ohio, Florida, California, and Vermont; most are community events like our Sweet Pea Festival. This August will be Cashman Nursery’s 10th Annual Zucchini Festival. We have contests, including one for the best food made with zucchini. Zucchini can be used in main dishes, eaten raw in salads, stir fried (try the combination of zucchini slices, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and snow peas, stir fried), baked in breads and cakes, pickled, relish, soups, and grilled. Shredded, you can sneak nutritious zucchini into almost anything you cook, to fool the vegetable-haters in your family.

Here is the winning recipe from last year’s Zucchini Festival submitted by Barb Kent:

    • Zucchini Casserole, Spanish Style
    • 2 c. diced zucchini
    • 2 c. diced yellow crookneck squash
    • 1 pint chunky tomatoes
    • ½-1 box Spanish Rice with seasoning packet
    • 1 can diced chilis
    • 2 c. mozzarella/ Monterey jack cheese
    • Salt & pepper

Mix ingredients, except 1 cup cheese, in a baking pan-bake for 45 minutes-1 hour covered with foil at 350-375 degrees. Remove foil, top with 1 c. cheese. Bake until light brown and melted.

And here’s a great chocolate zucchini cake recipe:

    • ½ c. butter ½ t. cinnamon
    • ½ c. oil ½ t. cloves
    • 1 ¾ c. sugar 1 t. baking soda
    • 2 eggs 1 t. salt
    • 2 c. grated zucchini ½ c. buttermilk
    • with skin 1 t. vanilla
    • 2 ½ c. flour ¾ c. chocolate chips
    • ¼ c. cocoa ¾ c. chopped nuts

Cream butter, oil, and sugar. Mix in eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add the dry ingredients. Mix well. Stir in zucchini. Pour into greased 9×13″ pan; top with chopped nuts and chocolate chips-needs no frosting. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.