I'll include the link to the story in our local paper, but for those of you who would rather not click away, here it is. Try not to be too jealous.
June 12, 2010
Local cook uses squash in chocolate cakes
Joe Courson/Gazette correspondent
TIFTON — Two grandmothers' favorite food left a lingering, good taste in the mouth of their granddaughter, Theresa Clemens. She’d become obsessed with the versatility of a type of squash she adds to her baking recipes.
“It’s a family thing. I grew up eating zucchini. My grandmothers grew and baked with zucchini. So, it’s a part of life. Some people say it’s a Yankee vegetable. Why not? Sure it is,” says Theresa with her characteristic quick, delightful laugh.
One of her grandmothers washed soup cans that she would use to bake zucchini bread in.
“She’d have little brown loaves that she would wrap up that we would eat,” remembers Theresa.
Sometimes, her grandmother would give away her zucchini bread baked in a soup can.
Tifton reminds her of her hometown of Columbiana, in northeastern Ohio, south of Youngstown. What’s the difference between the two cities? No that much since both have an agricultural economic base.
“They (people in Columbiana, Ohio) just have accents, that’s all,” says Theresa.
She moved southward to Florida and then to South Carolina where she worked as a graphic artist, and later married John Clemens, the vice president of fiscal affairs at ABAC. But she never stopped thinking of new uses for zucchini, regardless of where she lived. It became an unlikely passion.
“There’s only one way to improve zucchini and that’s with chocolate,” says Theresa.
She proved it.
Zucchini Chocolate Spice Cake
She brought her zeal for new uses for zucchini with her from Ohio. Most people would never associate zucchini with chocolate cake, but leave it to Theresa to give it a try.
“I never tried using it in a cake before, until recently,” says Theresa with a laugh.
She noticed the cake batter was bumpy and lumpy as she poured into a baking pan. A quick taste of the batter satisfied her. It had possibilities.
“Zucchini doesn’t have any flavor. It takes on its flavor from the ingredients that surround it,” says Theresa. “It’s kind of like tofu with vegetables.”
She felt so pleased with her creation that she shared it with her ABAC co-workers. Theresa didn’t mention the squash inside.
“A lot of deception,” says Theresa.
If they knew, she feared, it could squash their desire for the cake.
“No one turned up their nose or anything,” says Theresa.
“I didn’t taste the zucchini,” says Dr. Jeff Gibbs, dean of ABAC’s School of Business after he learned of the unusual cake ingredient. “You really had to look hard to see the green in the piece of cake.”
Others felt a bit surprised when she told them, finding the revelation easy to swallow after they ate it.
“It was gone; gone fast. A co-worker ate two pieces,” says Theresa.
What makes zucchini
work in a chocolate
“You grate it. All the Zucchini does to anything is add water when you bake. When you grate a zucchini, it’s full of water. Leave the rind on, and when you bake it, it pretty much bakes its way to nothing, but it makes everything super moist,” says Theresa.
She admits to frequently baking cakes from scratch or from a mix that turn out dry to the taste. The secret of moist cake making eluded her for years, until she found the cake recipe in a zucchini cookbook. Theresa couldn’t resist trying it.
Now, she intends to experiment with traditional recipes that call for water as an ingredient and substitute zucchini to discover the right substitute proportion.
Theresa doesn’t worry about running out of the versatile squash that grows literally a few yards from her kitchen.
“I have four plants that produce about two million zucchinis in a summer, in about three months,” says Theresa as she picks one from under an elephant-sized green leaf.
She grows them in a raised bed with a simple irrigation system, but a disease called powdery mildew turned some of the leaves yellow. (She’d like to find a way to fight the disease.) Her other beds grow tomatoes, and a variety of vegetable plants.
Another Taste Test
If anyone wonders if Theresa’s zucchini chocolate spice cake tastes moist like many homemade cakes, then wonder no more. Two taste tests answer the persistent question definitely.