By Tanya Kelley

I still remember chuckling as a dejected looking young couple, their arms loaded with weapons-grade zucchinis, walked out of our church last summer. Earlier that day, they had carried in the same number of zucchinis, obviously hoping to foist them off on some other (already zucchini-glutted) church members.

I chuckle, because I was in their shoes once. But then I figured out that zucchini is the best fruit in the garden. Fruit? Yes, fruit. That is, if you don’t mind deceiving your taste testers.

After moving to our new place on undeveloped land, we planted an orchard, which meant that we were several years off from having any of our own fruit. Apple pies were not on the menu anytime soon. And, since we weren’t in the sub-tropics, lemon pies and pineapple were even less likely. Unless …

For several years I’d canned the imitation pineapple recipe that had been passed around on the internet. Why couldn’t I make other “fruits” using different fruit juices, as long as I kept the acid level high enough so the product could be safely canned?

I started experimenting, using zucchini pickle recipes and the imitation pineapple recipe for building blocks. Pretty soon, we were well stocked with “apple” pie filling, “lemon” pie filling, dehydrated “apple” slices for snacking, and “pumpkin” pie snack slices.

Kelley_Zucchini_slice of pie
This “apple” pie is delicious!

The results are delicious and easy to make. Zucchinis are plentiful (and therefore cheap) and much easier to prepare than apples. For most recipes, I follow the same process. I use the gargantuan zucchinis — those are the best. Slice them in half lengthwise, from stem to blossom end. Use a spoon to scoop out all of the seeds and any stringy fiber. Then peel them. As you peel, you’ll notice that the surface of the zucchini starts getting very slippery. If you hold the zucchini with a paper towel, you’ll be able to keep it from shooting across the room.

Recipes

Once you’ve prepared the zucchini, you’ve got the beginnings of any of the recipes below — except for the cinnamon spiced “apple” rings (which are cut up differently to form the rings).

Kelley_Zucchini_spiced apple rings
These “apple” slices can be dehydrated for a tasty treat.

Zucchini “apple” snack slices
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 gallon sliced zucchini, about ¼ inch thick

For coating:
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

Boil sugar and vinegar. Add zucchini. Stir so all the zucchini is soaked by the vinegar mixture. Boil until translucent, about three minutes. Remove from heat, let cool. When cool, drain off vinegar, until it doesn’t drip anymore. Mix with one cup of sugar and 1 Tbsp. of cinnamon. Sprinkle over the drained slices, then toss so slices are evenly covered. Dehydrate as you would apple slices.

For “pumpkin pie” snack slices: Follow the same instructions except replace cider vinegar with water and cinnamon with pumpkin pie spice.

Zucchini “apple” pie filling
12-15 lbs. giant zucchinis, peeled, cored and sliced
5 cups sugar
4 tsp. salt
4 cups apple cider vinegar
8 cups water

Mix sugar, salt, cider vinegar, and water in large pan. Bring to a boil. Stir in zucchini slices, until slices are heated and somewhat translucent. Stir gently — zucchini slices can be brittle and will break apart easily. Remove from heat. Scoop slices into sterilized quart canning jars and then pour remaining syrup on top, to fill jars. Process, boiling water bath, for 15 minutes. Makes 7 quarts. To use for pies, drain and then add any thickening agents (flour, cornstarch) and spices before baking, just as you would with fresh apples.

Kelley_Zucchini_lemon spiced apple and apple pie
“Lemon” pie filling, spiced “apple” rings, and “apple” pie filling 

Zucchini “lemon” pie filling
12-15 lbs. giant zucchinis, peeled and grated
58 oz. bottled lemon juice
lemon peel, grated, from 2 lemons
6 cups sugar

Mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with mixture, topping with remaining juice to leave ½ inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath, for 25 minutes.

To use filling for lemon meringue pie: Mix ½ cup sugar with 2 Tbsp. of cornstarch. Stir into “lemon” filling. Heat, just till thickened. Pour into baked pie crust, top with meringue and bake (400 degrees, 8-10 minutes) till meringue is slightly browned.

Crisp cinnamon “apple” rings
7 lbs. large zucchinis
1 cup pickling lime
1 gallon water
2 cups vinegar
1 bottle (1 oz.) red food coloring
1 Tbsp. alum
2 cups vinegar
2 cups water
12 cups sugar
8 cinnamon sticks
1 package (12 oz.) red-hot candies

This is the only recipe where I peel zucchinis first before cutting. Slice across, to divide zucchini into sections that are about four inches long. Use a long, thin knife to cut out the core (seeds). After the core is gone, slice zucchini across to make “apple” rings. Soak the rings in lime and 1 gallon water for 24 hours.

Drain the rings and rinse well. Place in ice water. Let soak for 3 hours.

Mix 2 cups vinegar, red food coloring, alum, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Pour over rings and simmer for 2 hours. Drain.

Boil 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 12 cups sugar, cinnamon sticks, and red hots. Stir to dissolve red hots and sugar. Pour over rings. Soak for 24 hours.

Drain, reserving syrup. Heat syrup to boiling. Put rings in sterilized jars. Pour hot syrup over zucchinis, leaving ½-inch headspace. Place one cinnamon stick in each jar. Seal. Process 10 minutes in water bath. Makes 6-8 pints.

To make “lemon” rings — replace red hots with Lemonheads. Use yellow food coloring. Replace cinnamon stick with a strip (¼ inch wide x 4 inches long) lemon peel.

Use the seeds

One added benefit to using your giant zukes — the seeds are good-sized. Rinse the seeds to remove any fiber. Spread them out until dry to the touch. Place in a bowl and add 1 tsp. olive oil. Stir until seeds are lightly coated. Sprinkle with salt, as desired.

Bake at 400° F for 15 minutes, just until the seeds begin to brown. Stir midway through cooking time, so they dry evenly.
If you don’t care for zucchini seeds, you can always give them to your chickens or other livestock. My cows love the seeds, when they can beat the chickens to them!

Not only will these recipes spare you from seeking out social gatherings so you can give away zucchinis, but you’ll be stocking your pantry with some delicious snacks, appetizers, and baking ingredients.

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