I Can’t Believe It’s Not Apple Crisp: A sneaky and sweet way to use an overabundance of zucchini

Summertime Farmer’s Market Dessert

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.”–Jim Davis

There is an oft repeated cautionary tale reminding parishioners to lock their car doors during the summer months when attending worship services.  Otherwise, when you return after service, your car will have been gifted all the extra, and unwanted, zucchinis from a neighbor’s garden!  

My mom recently repeated that story to me, and it made me think of my grandmother, her mother, Helen.  As a child, my siblings and I often stayed with my maternal grandparents during the summer months, and we came to know much of the ins and outs of their life.  This understanding of their life grew even greater during a two year stint in which I lived with them, as a young adult.  And, that day-to-day life revolved around projects/chores around the house, their church community, family, and most importantly, mealtimes–with special emphasis on summertime produce for freezing, canning, and, of course, eating! 

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For example, during the summer months as a child, Pappaw grew a garden, as did all of their neighbors and fellow church community. Throughout the summer Pappaw gave extra vegetables to neighbors and friends.  In return, they reciprocated with their bounty.  Their in-home summer diet was supplemented with regular trips to a nearby produce stand, one town over from the little community in which they lived.  

Therefore, even though, as a young child, I grew up surrounded by distinct aromas, vibrant colors, and a wide variety of shapes of summer produce.  Half-runner beans, strung and broken into pieces cooking on the stove in a pressure cooker; sweet ears of corn on the cob, shucked, boiled and ready to be served up with tubs of “oleo;” glass jars of a neighbor’s sorghum syrup ready to be drizzled over biscuits, fresh bell peppers–although they called them “mangos”–chopped and ready for salads, sauces, or other recipes, and thinly sliced beefsteak tomatoes sprinkled with salt were common weekly summer meal features. Summer desserts featured strawberry shortcakes and blackberry cobblers, as each of those fruits came into season.  Other summertime desserts included watermelon wedges cold and salted, along with fresh summer melons, cut in half, and filled with ice cream or cottage cheese.

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Then came the two years that I lived with them.  No longer were my grandparents able to grow, manage, and maintain their garden, but it didn’t stop their neighbors and community members from sharing the bounty of their gardens with them.  Cue stage right, enter the oversized zucchini–countless oversized zucchini covering the kitchen counter from well-meaning garden-growing church community members!

Grandmother would cut up those zucchinis with fresh peppers, onion, and tomatoes.  Then, she’d season them and cook ‘em all up together–sometimes on the stovetop, like a stew, and sometimes in the oven with cheese and bread crumbs on top.  Her favorite variation was something she called zucchini boats in which she sliced large zucchinis in half, smothered each half in spaghetti sauce, sprinkled the sauce with parmesan, and baked them until golden brown in the oven. Finally, Grandmother Helen also baked zucchini breads and zucchini cakes–sheet or layer with cream cheese or buttercream icing.  Therefore, I absolutely believe that she would have loved the recipe that follows.

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Here’s to my grandparents’ summer time vegetable meal memories. And remember, if life gives you lemons, I mean zucchinis, then here’s a way to turn them into a sweet, summertime dessert!  It may have you saying, “I can’t believe it’s not apple crisp!”  

P.S. Be sure to tag me on social media, or reach out to me via email if you make this!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Apple Crisp:

Summertime Farmer’s Market Dessert

Gluten-Free and Vegan Options

Ingredients:

Filling:

6 cups peeled, deseeded (if large) and cubed (think thick pineapple chunks) zucchini* (About 5 medium store-sized zucchini/squash)

½ cup sugar or pure maple syrup

¼ cup lemon juice

1 ½  teaspoon apple pie spice (Can substitute with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼  teaspoon nutmeg, & ⅛ teaspoon allspice)

2 tablespoons all purpose flour, gluten-free if needed

Streusel Topping:

1 cup oats

¾ cup all-purpose flour, gluten-free if needed

¾ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup cold butter, cut into pieces (can use vegan variety)

Directions:

Peel and cube zucchini.

Over medium heat, add prepared zucchini and all filling ingredients EXCEPT flour.

Allow to cook down, approximately 10-20 minutes, or until zucchini chunks are super soft when pressed with a spoon.   

Stir in flour and allow to cook 3-5 more minutes, or until flour has been well incorporated and filling has thickened.  

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray 8×8 or 9×9 square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix together oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon until well blended. 

Cut in cold butter into mixture, using a fork or pastry blender, until crumbly, careful not to overmix. Set aside.

Spread zucchini filling mixture evenly into prepared baking pan.

Sprinkle with streusel topping mixture.

Bake 30-45 minutes, or until topping is crispy, golden brown and juices are bubbling along edges.

Allow to cool 15-20 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 generous servings or 9 smaller servings.

Feel free to top with favorite ice cream or whipped topping if desired.

*Feel free to experiment with other summer squashes, such as, yellow squash, crookneck squash, pattypan, cousa squash, and zephyr varieties 

Peel zucchini 🥒

Cut them up into pineapple chunk size.
MIx the filling up, add it to pot, and cook it down.
MIx together dry ingredients for streusel.
Cut cold butter into streusel mixture.
Bake it up until top is crispy and golden brown, and the juices are bubbling around the edges/sides.
Serve it up, once cooled!

Here's a sweet way to get a serving of vegetables in, and it will also help you use up all of those zucchinis your neighbors love to share! 🥒
With or without topping, you won’t believe it’s not apple crisp!

Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

“It’s unsettling to meet people who do not eat apples.”–Amiee Bender

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I love apples.  From tart to sweet, from bright green to crimson red, and all shades in between, as long as it is a crisp, juicy orb of an apple, I’m ready to slice it up and eat it up.   Some of my favorite apples are Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Crisp, and Pink Lady, to name a few, due to their crisp texture and bright taste.  Whether eaten alone, smeared with a bit of peanut or almond butter, or chopped and tossed in a salad, apples are a mainstay of my family’s refrigerator.

Fall, in our neck of the woods, is apple season.  Prices and selections of apples are at their prime. Additionally, new types of apples are marketed with more regularity, so this is the perfect time of year to explore new apple types.  In fact, it was only a few years ago that Honeycrisp was considered “new,” and now it is one of my favorite types of apples.

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I recall one of my friends, Jan, bringing a bag of sliced Honeycrisp apples to a Marshall University soccer game as a snack for our kids, who were both youth soccer players at the time, and the reason for our attendance at the game.  These were well before the days of MU’s Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex; nonetheless, we all enjoyed the game, and the kids loved those yummy apple slices.  Due to that experience, Honeycrisp apples entered into our family’s regular rotation of purchased apples.

Speaking of Jan, she and I were recently discussing Thanksgiving traditions and plans for this year.  Jan described a favorite spice cake with nuts and cream cheese frosting that her aunt made when she was younger.  As family lore often goes, this aunt shared her recipe at the request of numerous relatives, but all who made the recipe agreed that it never tasted as good as when the aunt made it.  Jan mused if the aunt had “accidentally” left off an ingredient.  (Which made me giggle because my sweet grandmother once confessed to doing that with one of her recipes!)

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Upon reflection of this story, and the added remembrance of our family’s introduction of Honeycrisp apples, that, a-hem, a seed of an idea was planted.  Could I create an apple-spice muffin recipe without cream cheese frosting–for which many in my family will be saddened, I’m certain, but with partial nuts? (Some like nuts, some do not.)  The answer is what follows below.

 My recipe is gluten-free, but if you do not have to consume a gluten free diet as I do, then feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.  Additionally, I kept the recipe plant-based and oil-free because it is easier on my sensitive digestive system.  That said, if that is not your preference, replace ½ cup of applesauce, with ⅓ cup oil or melted butter instead.  Additionally, 2 eggs can replace 2 “fleggs.”  Oh, and why vinegar? It makes the batter more acidic which, in the end, makes the muffins (or cake) fluffy, yet still moist.  

This recipe requires a bit more work than other recipes, but it is definitely worth the extra effort.  Your kitchen will be filled with autumnal aromas as the muffins bake.  Brew up a pot of coffee or your favorite tea, invite over a friend and/or family member, and swap stories while savoring these warm muffins.  You never know what your conversation could inspire, or conspire!

Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

Ingredients:

Optional topping 

2 tablespoons butter (can substitute plant-based “butter”)

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons of gluten-flour 

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon salt

Muffins

2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Honeycrisp, but feel free to choose another type!)

1 ½ cup gluten free all-purpose flour (Can use regular all-purpose flour.)

1 cup gluten free old fashioned, rolled oats

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½  teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

½ cup apple sauce

2 fleggs* or eggs

½ cup milk (or plant based alternative) at room temperature

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line muffin pan with parchment paper

If using topping, mix it together first and set in the fridge while mixing batter.

*If using “flegg” instead of eggs, stir together 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed with 6 tablespoons of water, and set aside in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, sugar, applesauce, fleggs (or eggs), milk, vinegar, and vanilla.

Add in flour-spice mixture and mix the batter 1-2 minutes until the batter begins to thicken. 

Stir in apples.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Scatter with topping.

Tip: I cut the nut-topping recipe in half, and only topped half of the muffins.  On the half without nut topping, I sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Finally, you can skip the nut-topping altogether, and/or stir in ½ cup chopped walnuts into batter when adding in chopped apples.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool in a pan set on a wire rack.

Serve warm.

Store any uneaten muffins in a storage container/bag in the fridge or freezer for up to two months.

**Updated option: When baking for those who may not like nuts, or simply can’t have them either, eliminate the nuts from the optional topping, or divide all of the topping recipe in half add simply add 1/4 cup walnuts to one half, and leave the other half of the topping, nut-free.

Mix the dry ingredients.
Combine rest of ingredients.
Mix one-two minutes until batter thickens.
Stir in apples.
Gently mix together apples and batter. Then divide among muffin cups.
If desired, sprinkle optional walnut topping over tops of muffin batter before baking.