Garden of Plenty

By Joy Howard | Photo by Dominic Perri

My family has a long history of community gardening failures. The first, we playfully refer to as the “potato experiment.” A dear friend (and experienced grower) convinced my husband and me that if we grew our potatoes vertically in our little urban plot—methodically stacking old tires and filling each with dirt through the growing season—we’d end up with enough potatoes to store for months. After hauling a small junkyard’s worth of old tires to the site, and diligently stacking and watering for months (our hope of a larger bounty growing with each new tire added), we dug up three teensy potatoes that were barely big enough to eat. 

There have been other mishaps too: the year of the promisingly green and leafy “micro” carrots; our first harvest of radishes so spicy they tasted like ghost peppers; the plot that was mauled by a pack of ravenous groundhogs the day after we planted all our seedlings. But for every unforeseen disaster, or stubbornly grown and finicky herb (I’m talking about you, cilantro!), there have always been plants that blossomed beautifully and bountifully, providing more than what even my family of five could manage to pick and eat: tomatillos, lettuce, cucumbers, and of course, zucchini.

Even if you can’t grow your own (the home garden I have now is too small and shady for broad, sprawling squash leaves), it’s hard to avoid the exuberant summer yield of zucchini. Beginning mid-season, farmers market stands, CSAs, and local grocery stores are sure to be filled with towering stacks of this emerald goodness. Who could resist? Though we don’t plant it any longer, zucchini remains a staple of our summer dinners. We baste them with homemade pesto and put them on the grill, shred and stir them into pancake batter, toss them in salads, and roast them in pans of ratatouille. With such versatility, I nearly never pass up the chance to toss at least a few into my shopping basket. 

Quick bread is another speedy way to transform too much zucchini into a decadently delicious treat. This version—in muffin form—is every bit as irresistible as its more indulgent counterpart, with far less sugar than a traditional walnut- and raisin-studded cake. Shredded zucchini, fresh corn, and cheddar are stirred into a slightly sweet and buttery cornbread batter that results in a muffin you can serve right alongside a summer meal or enjoy on its own. 

If you’ve got a set of little hands to help with baking, let them mix, measure, and stir the batter, then use an ice cream scoop to put it in the pan. Using a mini cookie cutter for shaping the squash slice atop each muffin will add some whimsy and fun to the process, but the end result will be just as tasty with simple rounds. 

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Joy Howard

Joy Howard is a freelance food writer, editor, and stylist, and the former food editor of Family Fun magazine. When not working on her own recipes, she helps her two youngest daughters practice their chopping skills and her college-aged daughter brainstorm ideas for transforming ramen noodles into a balanced meal. Find out what her family is eating for dinner and snapshots of her latest projects on Instagram @littlefoodwonders.