If any thing could tear me from my at times maniacal devotion to small spaces, walk-up apartments, crowded sidewalks and our crystal rattling at 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday while the stench of hot tar seeps in through our leaky windows because the City decided this would be a good time to repave the avenue below, it would be the suburban pastoral longing for a backyard garden where I could grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and herbs.
Growing up, this is what my parents set aside a space on the side of the house for, lined by a raspberry bush and just steps from the sour cherry tree. Sadly, the tree died just as I developed a taste for the tart cherries, the raspberry bush became overrun with poison ivy, and the last round of landscaping whittled the garden area to half its size, but I swear, somewhere in the back there is still a matted indentation from the Summer of the Zucchini Bats.
I don’t know if something was particularly haywire in the soil that summer (insert your best Jersey joke here) or maybe this is just what happens from time to time if you don’t pick your zucchini when they’re a more manageable size, but the summer when I was about seven, the zucchini never stopped growing. Now, I was short then (and sadly, still am) but I remember these things being at least half my size. And heavy. And we had no idea what to do with them.
Which brings me to my very first cookbook, aptly titled something along the lines of My Very First Cookbook. I’d do anything to find another copy of it today, but to be honest, I’m not even sure if it was mass-produced in any way. Bound with one of those white plastic comb spines, with hand-drawn illustrations inside, it could easily have been picked up at a craft fair form by the neighbor across the street who gave it to me as a birthday gift. It’s generic title and odd construction have not made it easy to hunt down.
But in truth, no matter what nostalgia I deck it out with, it was nothing spectacular, your run-of-the-mill peanut butter sandwich recipes with a hippy-dippy bent of “try this with raisins!” But within its pages was a timely gem, something we’d never made before but were surprisingly delicious. And although I can’t actually imagine my mother letting us bake batches upon batches of sweet cakey food, I remember making a lot of zucchini muffins that summer.
Zucchini muffins are sheer brilliance, if you ask me, crafted from the same ingenious logic as carrot cake: of course it’s healthy, it has vegetables in it. And, um, there’s nothing wrong with that line of thought, not that you couldn’t swap half the oil for yogurt or applesauce or half the flour with whole wheat for an especially earnest treat.
But I didn’t bother with any of that last night. I just wanted it the way I remembered–loads of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a heaping pile of shredded squash. Of course, I have this husband thing now and he has but one suggestion for all food items, always: couldn’t you add chocolate chips to that? Thus, in the loaf I didn’t bring to work today, I did, but I’ve got to say, although delicious, they didn’t work for me because my idea of what zucchini bread should taste like was set at an early age, and is apparently unwavering, like some ten-pound zucchini from back in the day.
Which brings me to a question I’ve been itching to ask: Do you remember your first cookbook? Do you remember what you made from it?
This makes two loaves; one should always make both and freeze one — future you thanks you. This is great on the first day but even better on the 2nd and downright exceptional on the third.
I suggest add-ins such as dried fruit, nuts or chocolate but absolutely never use them.
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup (235 ml) olive, vegetable oil or melted butter (I use a mix)
- 1 1/3 to 1 3/4 cups granulated or turbinado sugar (the latter is the original amount)
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 2 cups grated, packed zucchini, not wrung out (from about 10 ounces or 2 smallish zucchini)
- 3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (55 grams) chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
- 1 to 2 cups dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate chips or a combination thereof (optional)
Whisk eggs, oil or butter, sugar and vanilla in the bottom of a large bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt over wet ingredients and whisk them in well. Stir in zucchini. Gently stir in flour, mixing only until flour disappears. Stir in any add-ins, from nuts to chocolate.
Divide between prepared pans and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. [Muffins will bake far more quickly, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.] You can let them cool for 10 minutes on a rack before inverting and removing cakes from pans, or just let them cool completely in pans. Store it wrapped in foil at room temperature for up to 5 days.