The gardener’s dilemma, giant veggies

By Bill Colvard -
Roger Keck, of Glass Road in Mount Airy, is pictured here with a two pound “Big Giant” tomato. - Bill Colvard | The News
Melissa Cochran has an unusual recipe for overly large zucchini such as this one. - Bill Colvard | The News

It is not unusual for gardeners who are also readers of the Mount Airy News to bring some of their more impressive achievements in the art of growing ginormous vegetables into the offices of the paper to have those achievements recorded for posterity.

Roger Keck, who lives on Glass Road, can be counted on to grow some hefty tomatoes every year. This year was no exception. He brought in a “Big Giant” tomato (which certainly lived up to its name) weighing in at “a hair over two pounds.”

“There are six more on the same vine just like this,” said Keck, “or pretty close.”

All the rain made the tomatoes grow really large this year, according to Keck. A lot of them grew too much too fast. Splits in a starburst-formation across the crown of the tomato developed on a lot of fruit and some simply split along the side from stem to bottom.

“It rained so much and they grew faster than the skin could keep up with,” said Keck.

Keck credited his brother-in-law Larry Patterson with providing him with the plants. Patterson is also known to grow some large tomatoes, and he and Keck have been known to engage in a little friendly competition.

“Not this year,” grinned Keck. “Larry started plants, but he didn’t grow any tomatoes himself.”

Keck makes use of his bounty of tomatoes by eating them fresh from the garden, canning them and making juice.

“I’ve got a juicer you won’t believe,” said Keck.

Giant tomatoes also come in handy to fans of tomato sandwiches as a single slice is all that is necessary to make a sandwich. And tomato lovers generally have no problem eating fresh tomatoes at every meal during July and August. But what if one doesn’t can or make juice as is done in the Keck household? Some recipes follow for using up some of those big tomatoes you may have lying around.

Melissa Cochran, whose garden is at her family’s cabin in Ararat, Virginia, is no stranger to large tomatoes either. But her 2018 crowning achievement in the art of growing enormous vegetables is a gigantic zucchini that is roughly the size of a two-month-old baby.

Which is in itself ironic, as “zucchini” is Italian for “little zucche” with “zucche” translating roughly as pumpkin. The British actually call zucchinis “courgettes,” from the French for courge, or marrow, but again with that diminutive ending “ette,” signifying smallness.

So even their name proclaims their smallness, but left to their own devices, zucchini will grow to enormous proportions.

“I keep my zucchini picked. So I don’t know how this happened, but there it was this morning,” Cochran said, cradling her infant-sized zucchini for a mother-squash photo.

Despite most cooks expressing a decided preference for small summer squash in the six-inch to eight-inch size range, for their tender skin, lack of large, tough seeds, and less watery, more flavorful flesh, Cochran is not concerned with finding a use for her behemoth.

“I have a recipe,” she said. “First, you need up to a bushel of big zucchini, a raincoat, sunglasses and a moderately fast vehicle. Then find a busy parking lot and carefully place the zucchini in the back seat of an unlocked car while disguised by the raincoat and sunglasses. Now run as fast as you can back to your moderately fast vehicle and hope for a clean getaway.”

And though Cochran’s raucous laughter indicated she was most likely joking, a Google search on uses for overgrown zucchini was’t much more helpful, yielding suggestions ranging from composting them to slopping hogs. It requires a deep dive to produce some more useful options.

Big tough seeds, the bane of large zucchini, can actually be scooped out, dried, spiced and roasted, much like pumpkin seeds.

To cook the huge ones, you need to peel them, as the skin is quite tough. Also scrape out and discard their spongy, seedy center, as you would a winter squash. Save the seeds for roasting. And when baking, be sure and squeeze the shredded flesh dry or risk gummy quick breads and cakes. But don’t throw away the juice. It has its own uses.

So if you see Melissa Cochran in a parking lot incongruously dressed in raincoat and sunglasses, make sure and leave your car unlocked. There could be zucchini bread and agua fresca in your future.

Roasted and Spiced Zucchini Seeds

A large zucchini is not just an option here. You actually need one. The seeds of small zucchini are soft and juicy and will not work here.

Seeds from a giant zucchini

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Dash cayenne

Salt to taste (about half teaspoon)

1 tbsp. sugar, or more to taste

Extra-virgin olive oil

To remove the seeds from your giant zucchini, scrap out the fleshy, seed-riddled center portion of the vegetable. Separate the large, woody seeds from the flesh. Soak in a bowl of water for a few minutes to remove more of the flesh and strings. Bring salted water to a boil, add the seeds, simmer for 10 minutes, drain. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Spread the drained (but still wet) seeds on a baking sheet. Bake them for about 15 minutes until they are somewhat dry. Meanwhile, combine the spices, salt and sugar. When the seeds are no longer soaked, remove them from the oven. Turn the oven up to 325°F. Drizzle – but don’t douse – the seeds with olive oil to coat, sprinkle the seeds with the spice mixture (you may not need all of it) and mix thoroughly. Bake for about 15 minutes until the seeds are nice and toasty, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully as they can burn easily. Remove from the oven and cool; they will get crispier as they cool. Store in a sealed container.

Orange Zucchini Infused Water

4 orange slices (peeled and deseeded)

4 zucchini cubes

Put two of the orange slices, all the zucchini cubes and then the remaining 2 orange slices in an infusing tube and close the lid. Fill ¾ of a bottle with water, place the infusing tube in it, close the lid of the bottle tightly and shake it lightly. Put aside to infuse for 2 to 3 hours.

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

A sprinkle of Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil transform tomatoes into the perfect side dish. You don’t need enormous tomatoes, but they are certainly cool. Try one of the finished Parmesan tomatoes between slices of hearty bread for a new take on a tomato and cheese sandwich.

4 tomatoes, halved horizontally

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano

¼ tsp. salt

4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil. Bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Slow-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

Slow-roasting caramelizes and intensifies the flavor of tomatoes and gives them a meatier, more robust texture. Once you’ve roasted the tomatoes, they’ll keep in the freezer for months or for a good while in the refrigerator if you pack them in olive oil. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you can use another fresh hardy herb like oregano or rosemary—or leave it out altogether.

3 tbsp. plus 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4-1/2 to 5 lb. medium-large ripe beefsteak tomatoes (about 12), stemmed but not cored

Kosher salt

Granulated sugar

Scant 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

3 to 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12×17-inch rimmed baking sheet or two 9×12-inch rimmed baking sheets with foil. If you have parchment, put a sheet on top of the foil. Coat the pan or pans with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Cut the tomatoes in half through the equator (not through the stem). Arrange the halves, cut side up, on the baking sheet, turning to coat their bottoms with some of the oil. Sprinkle a pinch each of salt and sugar over each half, and drizzle each with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Arrange the garlic over the halves and top with a generous sprinkling of thyme. Pour the remaining 1 cup olive oil over and around the tomato halves.

Roast in the center of the oven until the tomatoes are concentrated, dark reddish brown (with deep browning around the edges and in places on the pan) and quite collapsed (at least half their original height; they will collapse more as they cool), about 3 hours for very ripe, fleshy tomatoes, about 4 hours for tomatoes that are less ripe or that have a high ­water content. Let cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes and then serve warm or at room temperature. Be sure to reserve the tomato oil (keep refrigerated for up to a week) to use on its own or in a vinaigrette.

Plum tomato variation: Substitute plum tomatoes, cut in half through the stem end and seeded. The roasting time will be about 2 hours. Roasted plum tomato halves hold together particularly well; layer them in a ­terrine or roll them up, stuffed with goat cheese and basil, as an appetizer.

Cucumber Zucchini Agua Fresca

This recipe assumes a normal-sized zucchini. If you’re utilizing a monster squash, use the equivalent amount. If you like the results, you’ll have plenty more to make another batch tomorrow.

1 large cucumber, peeled and cubed

1 medium-size zucchini squash, peeled and cubed

1 lemon, cut in half

Granulated sugar or simple syrup to taste (recipe below)

8 to 10 cups water

Ice cubes

The exact amount of sugar needed will vary depending on your taste. Sugar substitutes may also be used if desired. See below for sugar substitution options.

In a blender or juicer, place equal parts cubed cucumber and zucchini. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon (be sure to remove the seeds), and 2 to 3 cups of water. Use only enough water in the blender to liquefy the vegetables.

Strain the cucumber/zucchini liquid through a fine sieve or strainer into your pitcher. Save the cucumber/zucchini pulp and add a little sweetener to maker a wonderful treat that has an applesauce consistency.

Sugar Substitutions:

2/3 cup Agave Nectar per 1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon Stevia per 1 cup sugar

1 cup Splenda (24 packets) per 1 cup sugar


Make Simple Syrup (see recipe below).

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is just sugar and water boiled together. This liquid substance has all the same sweetness of granulated sugar. It is the secret ingredient to the best cold homemade beverages, cocktails, and other drink recipes. It is so much easier to swirl in a prepared translucent liquid than it is to add sugar directly, because the granules do not need to dissolve. Ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar.

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups cold water

In a high-sided saucepan over medium-high heat, bring cold water and sugar to a boil. Turn the heat to low and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture is clear, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remember – the longer you boil it, the thicker the syrup will be when cooled. To test if the sugar is completely dissolved: Using spoon, scoop up a small amount of the syrup. You should not be able to see any sugars crystals in the liquid. If you do, boil a little longer. Remove from heat and let cool before using. This syrup mixture will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Roger Keck, of Glass Road in Mount Airy, is pictured here with a two pound “Big Giant” tomato. Keck, of Glass Road in Mount Airy, is pictured here with a two pound “Big Giant” tomato. Bill Colvard | The News

Melissa Cochran has an unusual recipe for overly large zucchini such as this one. Cochran has an unusual recipe for overly large zucchini such as this one. Bill Colvard | The News
Impressive to look at, but what to do with them

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.