My parents grew zucchini when I was a kid, and my mother magically turned it into bread. Sweet and spicy, I couldn’t imagine that it contained a vegetable. When I started cooking and baking in college, I used my fledgling Internet skills to track down zucchini bread recipes in the hopes of cinnamon-sweet replication.
Most recipes I found used about a cup of vegetable oil, 2 cups of sugar, and very little zucchini. I’m certainly not opposed to oil and sugar, but I understand now why I had trouble believing my mom’s loaves had any zucchini in them.
I started experimenting with more savory breads. I’ve baked ones with barely a tablespoon of sugar, flecked with sesame and flax seeds, and dense with whole wheat flour. I’ve made a loaf with a combination of zucchini and carrots, with raisins that all sank into a clump as it baked. I’ve considered cream cheese frosting. I’ve considered that my mom’s bread might just be the best there is.
Then I started adding lemon zest, ginger, and curry powder, based on an idea I got from Heidi Swanson. It hits all the notes for me: sweet, savory, spicy, mysterious, something that people have trouble pinning down but find intriguing. I find it addictive.
As a kid, my friends and I would eat zucchini bread for snacks after school. Even my most suspicious-of-zucchini friends were won over.
As a teenager, my August breakfasts were always similar: a hunk of zucchini bread, a handful of blueberries, and whatever awful flavored coffee I was into at the time. (I was partial to hazelnut and caramel.) I’d spend my mornings on the computer, poking around chat rooms eating every last crumb.
I am generally not a romantic person. I will usually side with progress and don’t subscribe to the idea that the “good old days” are worth returning to. I am romantic about food, however, and about food traditions. As a typical midwestern family, our food was not precious or unique. Yet, every time I pull out my mixing bowls and box grater, feel the green watery zucchini strands clinging to my fingers, smell the warmth of spice, I think of being young. I think of my childhood Augusts with autumn breathing around the corner, the start of a new schoolyear, the promise of hurtling towards some bright future. My recipe may have changed, but the feelings remain the same.