Preserving Summer Squash

One zucchini, two zucchini, three zucchini . . . . four . . .

Summer squash is now in plentiful supply.  When a plant begins to produce, it often produces an overwhelming amount of produce.  While there are several varieties of summer squash, zucchini is the one we hear about the most.  And perhaps the one we have the most ‘fun’ with when surprise care packages show up on co-workers’ desk or neighbor’s doorstep. Before giving all away, consider saving a few for off-season use by preserving.

Summer squash is at its very best when it is eight inches or less in length and an inch or two wide (about two to three days of growth) or, in the case of odd-shapes, picked right when the flower falls off. When picked and eaten at this size, the inside texture is consistent throughout the fruit, never pithy, and the seeds aren’t yet developed. The skin is incredibly tender, and the flavor is mild and sweet–sweet because the plant creates sugars as energy to make seeds; when picked before the seeds develop, those sugars are still present in the flesh. If left on the vine longer, the skin begins to toughen and quality decreases. When cooked the tender squash create uniform, never mushy or stringy, delicious additions to soups, kebabs, sauces, salads, and stir-fries. And, yes, they make a fine zucchini bread or zucchini cake, too.

Fresh squash should be washed in cold water to remove all visible signs of soil before using or storing. Handle carefully as summer squash bruise easily. Store fresh squash in the refrigerator crisper in plastic storage bags or rigid containers to retain moisture. Stored in this manner, squash will maintain quality for 5-7 days. 

So while we know how to use them fresh, what about preserving them?

The USDA does not recommend canning summer squash or zucchini alone.  Rather the recommendation is to preserve by freezing, pickling, or drying.  An adequate processing times has not been established for a safe product.  Squash are low-acid vegetables requiring pressure canning to destroy the bacteria that cause botulism. The heat required to can squash results in the squash flesh turning mushy and sinking to the bottom of the canning jar. The compacted flesh does not heat evenly.  Zucchini may only be canned when paired with tomatoes using a tested recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP):  https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_03/tomato_okra_zucchini.html OR paired with pineapple juice, sugar, and lemon juice using a recipe also from the NCHFP, https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/zucchini_pineapple.html. Zucchini Pineapple maybe used in salads, desserts, or other recipes calling for crushed or chunk pineapple.

FREEZING

There are three different ways to successfully freeze summer squash./zucchini.  Begin by choosing young squash with tender skin and washing.  There is no need to peel but squash must be blanched before freezing.  Blanching slows or stops the enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  Blanching also cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color, helps retard loss of vitamins and wilts or softens vegetables making them easier to pack. Blanching may be done in boiling water or steam.

  1. Slices – Slice ¼ – ½-inch thick.  Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes on in steam for 4 1/2 minutes; cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes.  Drain well and package.  If packaged in freezer containers, leave ½-inch of headspace.  Slices may also be flash frozen using the tray method and packaged.
  2. Preparation for Frying – Follow instructions for blanching.  Before packaging, dredge in flour or cornmeal.  Flash freeze using the tray method and package.
  3. Grated for Baking – While some grate, package, and freeze squash for future baking, it is recommended to steam blanch squash for best quality.  Steam blanch small quantities of grated squash 1 to 2 minutes (until translucent) followed by packing measured amounts into containers.  Cool containers in ice water, seal and freeze.  When ready to use, thaw containers of frozen squash in the refrigerator prior to use. If the squash is watery when thawed, discard the liquid before using in baked goods.

Varieties for freezing include cocozelle, crookneck, pattypan, straightneck, white scallop and zucchini.  Chayote is also regarded as a summer squash but requires slightly different preparation for blanching.  Chayote is diced and seeded before blanching for 2 minutes. 

Remember to label and date packages. Properly packaged and frozen, squash should maintain high quality for approximately 10 months in the freezer.  Vacuum packaging can extend the shelf life of frozen squash but cannot be used as a food preservation method alone. Flash freeze squash slices before packaging, package frozen squash and return frozen squash to the freezer. Vacuum packaged frozen squash will have a longer shelf life than frozen squash which is not vacuum packaged.

PICKLING

Follow a tested recipe for pickling summer squash. Summer squash, zucchini, or chayote work well for pickling.  Two approved and very good tasting recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation:

Summer Squash Relishhttps://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/summer_squash_relish.html

Notes:  Squash may be diced or shredded by hand instead of shredding with a food processor.  Any variety of onion is acceptable.  Celery salt may be used in place of celery seed for a taste preference.  Relish can be enjoyed freshly made without processing.  Fresh or opened jars of relish should be refrigerated. [Preserving Food at Home Resource Guide, PennState Extension, p.104] For best quality and safety, consume refrigerated pickled squash within 7 days.

Pickled Bread-and-Butter Zucchini:  https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/bread_butter_zucchini.html

DRYING

Varieties that work well for drying include zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Wash and trim ends from the squash and cut squash into ¼-inch slices.  Steam blanching slices for 2 ½ -3 minutes or water blanch for 1 ½ minutes is recommended for best quality.  Utah State University Extension suggests adding 1 teaspoon/gallon citric acid to the blanching water to reduce darkening during the drying process.  Drain the slices and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Dry in a food dehydrator at 135-140⁰F for 10-12 hours or until slices are leathery crisp and brittle.  Store the dried pieces in airtight containers (glass jars or in moisture and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags) in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 12 months. Vacuum packaging dried squash is also an option as it will resist moisture better and extend the shelf life.

Ten pounds of fresh squash will dry to approximately ¾ pound. Dried squash can be used in soups or stews or processed in a food chopper and used in breads or baked goods.

Regardless of how summer squash is preserved or used fresh, it is nutritious. One cup sliced (100 g), fresh summer squash has approximately 18 calories, 1 g fiber, and 1 g protein. Squash is an excellent source of vitamin C. Cooked squash will have essentially the same calories, fiber and protein, but will lose approximately 75% of the Vitamin C during the cooking process (http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/index.html).

To learn more about the many uses for summer squash, check out: Summer Squash Is a Versatile Vegetable in Iowa Gardens.

References

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Tips for Preventing Gardening Injuries

I love spring and can’t wait to get my hands in the soil to start gardening.  I love being outside and moving again after a winter siesta.  The healthy benefits of gardening are many with physical exercise being at the top of the list.  Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise depending on the task according to the American Heart Association.  Digging, lifting, raking, mowing, pruning, and planting all produce whole-body movement increasing endurance, strength, balance and flexibility as well as burning calories. Getting out in the yard for just 30-45 minutes can burn up to 300 calories. Other benefits of gardening include lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure, and mortality, better hand function, higher bone density, and better psychological wellbeing.   

For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that ERs treat more than 400,000 injuries each year related to gardening.  Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury.

Regardless of age, experts [1], [2], [3], in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit.  Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment.   The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:

  1. Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength.  Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
  2. Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility.  Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
  3. Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain.There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
  4. Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands.  Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
  5. Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.

Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind: 

  • warm up and stretch prior to activity;
  • begin with light movements;
  • stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
  • lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
  • avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
  • practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from the University of California Agricultural Resources [4] to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
  • kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
  • apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
  • consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
  • wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
  • wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
  • use the correct tool for the job;
  • maintain your tools and use them properly.

Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

Neighborhood Gardens

Using a vacant space in the backyard as a garden plot is by no means a new idea; in fact, it’s steeped in history. What if that space was to become a neighborhood pick-what-you-need garden? 

Last spring, my son-in-law (Guy) had just that idea. He enjoyed having a small garden and the fresh vegetables that came from it.  But as we know, sometimes even a small garden can produce more than a family can consume fresh.  Instead of simply sharing or tossing the excess, he reached out to his backyard cul-de-sac neighbors to see if they would like to participate in a neighborhood garden.  He volunteered to oversee the garden building and tending since none of his neighbors were familiar with gardening.  However, if everyone participated in the planting and care, anything that grew would be available to all for the picking.  The neighborhood enthusiastically accepted his idea and so the process began.

One neighbor with an oversized lot volunteered space where there was good drainage and plenty of sunshine.  Since this was a recently developed area with a lot of soil compaction, Guy brought in new soil and compost.  He designed the garden to have raised beds on three sides with a walk path in the middle for easy access to the raised beds.  The raised beds were covered with a weed barrier and a fence and gate were added for deer and rabbit protection. Everyone pitched in with the preparations as they were able.

Tomato, cucumber, pepper, and bean plants were decided upon and acquired.  On planting day, Guy invited all the neighborhood kids and showed them how to plant the various seedlings.  As spring became summer, the kids and their families watched the baby plants turn into maturing plants setting blossoms and fruit.  With the first sight of baby fruit, everyone waited impatiently for ripening and the first picking.

No one could have predicted the amazing effects of this garden.  The first of the fruits to be harvested was a cucumber picked by an adult who had never picked anything in his life; he was ecstatic and wanted to know if it could be made into dill pickles!  The children went into the garden for right-off-the-vine snacks; in fact, one little girl loved the garden so much that when she couldn’t be found any other place, she was in the garden.  The children also enjoyed searching for tomato worms and watching the moths and butterflies that visited the garden. Sometimes there was a bit of friendly competition of who was going to get the next ripe and ready tomato, pepper, cucumber or bean.  For others, it was the first time they had ever tasted a freshly picked vegetable.  In the end, even this small garden produced more than the neighborhood could use.  Everyone was grateful for the experience and is looking forward to another garden this year.

The comradery of this neighborhood is unique and special.  The same ‘loose’ organization might not work in another neighborhood; other neighborhoods may need or want a well-organized plan and established ground rules before they begin. When that becomes the case, neighborhoods or community groups should develop a garden plan, like a business develops a business plan, to address such issues as

  • How to pay for supplies?  Should there be a membership fee?  Who will handle finances?
  • Who will oversee or supervise?
  • Who are the workers and what are their tasks?   
  • What will be planted?
  • How will distribution of produce be handed?
  • Will fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides be used?  Will the garden be organic?
  • Liability?

Other considerations and tips on starting a neighborhood or community garden can be found using these resources:

Start It Up – Eat Greater Des Moines
Starting a Community Garden – American Community Gardening Association
How to Organize a Community Garden – North Carolina State Extension

Regardless of how big or small, the benefits from a shared garden are numerous.  In addition to providing fresh vegetables, a garden can also be a tool for promoting physical and emotional health, connecting with nature, teaching life skills, teamwork, neighborliness, and security.  Spring will be here soon.  If a neighborhood garden is a consideration, it is time to start planning now.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

More Posts

AnswerLine

Subscribe to AnswerLine Blog

Enter your email address:

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

Archives

Categories