Everyone who planted them complains about too many zucchinis at this point in the harvest. This year I put in Costata Romanesca, a heritage variety heartily recommended by botanist Carol Deppe in the book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. According to Dr. Deppe, this variety is the most flavorful for drying plus it has a quality unique to summer squash–it’s skin remains tender up to four pounds. It’s also resistant to powdery mildew. She was right on all counts. What she didn’t mention was how prolific it is. Yes, more than the stunning bounty we already associate with zucchini.
This means I’ve exceeded my family’s willingness to eat it, even their favorites like zucchini pizza and mystery chocolate cake. And I’m downright weary of hiding it in burritos and quiche. Hence, my dehydrator rationalization. I broke down and bought the well-recommended Excalibur 3900 . It’s marvelous. I’ve been on a produce drying binge almost continuously since it arrived two weeks ago. Let me tell you, water really does make up a lot of our food. I know this after seeing one head of cauliflower, when dried with salt and garlic powder, turn into crunchy snackable tidbits that fit in a half pint jar.
Anyway, the best zucchini hack I’ve found? Drying it into gummy fruit! I got the original recipe from Common Sense Home, but have modified it for more flavor.
Zucchini Gummy Fruit
It doesn’t sound enticing, certainly doesn’t look more appealing than any other dried fruit but my family chomps them up and other people like them too, as long as we tell them these are “healthy” gummy fruit so they aren’t expecting the wildly colored and artificially sweetened versions. (Zucchini is a fruit, btw.)
- 6 to 7 cups of zucchini cut into thin strips*
- one 12 to 16 ounce can of unsweetened juice concentrate (apple-raspberry, grape, or pineapple are wonderful)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water
- optional: flavorings such as fruit extract or fruit oils (I use a dash of lemon or orange extract when using pineapple juice)
- optional: if you want a sweeter snack, you can add up to 1/4 cup honey or up to a 1/2 cup sugar (I don’t think this is necessary)
*Peel zucchini until no green remains. Cut away from core so that no seeds or spongey seed area remains. I cut the strips about as thick as my husband’s thick fingers. As long as they’re somewhat uniform, cut them as you please.
Put all ingredients in a large, non-stick skillet or wide bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The zucchini will not be immersed in the liquid but will soften as it cooks. Stir gently as needed to move the liquid around so all the pieces have time to soak in the juice. If you are not using a non-stick skillet you’ll need to stir more frequently.
Continue cooking until all pieces are completely translucent. Chances are, the liquid will be entirely used up by that time. Typically it takes about a half hour but it can take longer. If the pieces still aren’t done you may need to add a few spoonfuls of water. Instead, I just plucked out the few pieces that refused to finish cooking and tossed them in the pail I keep in the kitchen for our chickens.
Then spread the pieces so they’re not touching on non-stick dehydrator sheets and put the setting on “fruit leather” or “fruit.” On my machine that’s between 115 and 125 degrees. Start checking after about 8 hours. It can take up to 24 hours, depending on the size of the pieces. I check by peeling off a smaller, more done, piece and eating it.
(I tried cooking a batch of these on Silpat sheets in the oven on the lowest temperature, 170 degrees. When they didn’t get to the dry chewy stage after about 9 hours I got impatient and tossed them in the dehydrator. I think the fan in the dehydrator really accelerates the process.)
You’ll know when they’re done. They should be somewhat tough and really chewy, keeping your mouth much busier than you expect, but not so dry that they are crackly. Because their moisture content won’t be as low as most long-term storage items cranked out by dehydrators, store them in an air-tight container and use them up in a few days. Or keep them in the fridge (that’ll make them a dental challenge for sure). We haven’t chilled any we’ve made because they get eaten up too quickly. I’ve used quite a few monster zukes this way.
These little snacks are remarkably tasty. They’re also, let me warn you, very filling. Zucchini has fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and C, folate, choline, even omega-3 fatty acids. It may lose some nutrients from cutting away the peel but each piece is a highly concentrated package of tasty energy. It can’t be compared to the candy. It’s better. Just don’t expect it to be attractive…