I’ve grown up in a number of different places. I spent my first few infantile months crammed into a two bedroom apartment in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. Fast forward to eighteen months and my mother and father were stuck in the hallway of the hotel we were living in because the lock froze during what was purportedly one of the worst blizzards to hit Virginia. By the time I was four I was living in a development one mile away from Disney World (every four-year old’s dream) in Winter Garden, Florida. When I think back to the days that I lived in that prefabricated home I can distinctly recall, aside from the fact that I might still be engaged to one of my old babysitters (I never did take that plastic spider ring back), my mother’s baking. Specifically, her Zucchini Bread, a favorite snack (although it could be a meal if you tried hard enough) of mine.My mother is an avid gardener thanks to my Great Grandfather Leo, a secretive Freemason and proud owner of a green thumb. Thanks to him, my mother grew up growing everything from brussel sprouts, to tomatoes, to zucchini. She always plants zucchini. I can distinctly remember many summer days in the sweltering mid-July heat, trying to find a spot of shade somewhere around our seemingly endless (to the mind of a four-year old) cul-de-sac, only to smell my mom’s zucchini bread wafting out of the front patio door. What possessed her to heat up our small home even more by baking I’ll never understand, not that I was complaining at the time. After about an hour of resisting (or not resisting as it were) the temptation to run in and start begging, “Mommy, is it ready now? I’m hungry. When is the zucchini ready?” I would be rewarded with a warm, velvety soft slice of heavenly, sumptuous bread.
It was a comfort to me in times when I needed it. While I might have played Casanova with my erstwhile caretakers, I did not get along very well with peers my own age because of my regular upheaval of homes. There was one girl in kindergarten named Jessica who would torment me during all hours of the school day. On one occasion, I was sitting at a table in the lunchroom and my childhood tormentor decided to walk behind me with her full lunch tray and trip herself. Naturally, she blamed me for it and I was removed from recess for a week after that. My mother, knowing my frustrations (and suspecting my innocence), was ready and waiting with freshly baked Zucchini Bread when I got home during that week.
Imagine for a moment the pillowy softness of this snack in your mouth. The moist, baked batter slowly dissolving on your tongue and in your cheek as you chew. The occasional crunch of a walnut under-tooth. I don’t think that I could adequately describe just what my mother’s homemade zucchini bread tastes like, but I’ll try: it’s sweet, but not too sweet, with a slight citrus tang, and an earthy kind of flavor. I suspect that no matter where I go in life, I’ll always have this connection to her, and to who I am from this one simple snack. Even now, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, when my mother bakes her zucchini bread I feel safe, loved, and comforted. If I were to say it tasted like anything, I would say it tastes like home.
Homemade Zucchini Bread
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1 cup finely shredded unpeeled zucchini
¼ cup cooking oil
¼ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
½ cup chopped walnuts
In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Mix.
In a separate mixing bowl combine the sugar, shredded zucchini, cooking oil, egg, and lemon peel. Go ahead and mix this too, but maybe throw in a pinch of old childhood memories.
Slowly combine the contents of both bowls and mix until they are just combined. This might be a good time to add bits of your family. Not literally, of course, but how you felt about them when you were young and growing.
Now stir in the walnuts. Nothing extra here.
Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan. Act like your old four year old self and lick any batter left over out of the bowl. No need for a spoon.
Bake at 350° for about an hour. During that hour, you are required to think nostalgically about some specific memories from when you were young.
Let the loaf cool for 10 minutes before enjoying your own personal slice of home.