Every summer when I was growing up, mom would take us out berry picking, we helped her make freezer jam and homemade popsicles and she'd give us own little plot of earth to garden and we could choose whatever kinds of seeds to plant. We drank iced tea with sugar cubes, ran in the sprinkler, camped out in the back yard and would lie on our backs for hours on towels on the lawn, just looking at the sky, daydreaming.
My mother planted her own vegetable garden every summer, and one of her favorite things to grow was zucchini. She’d harvest huge batches of it, and used it in soups; she’d slice it up, dot it with butter and bake it in a Pyrex dish the oven. My father would grill it, brushed with olive oil and fresh rosemary, and my sister and I would shred piles of it to be used in casseroles, loaves of bread, cookies and muffins. My favorite was my mother’s zucchini bread. Her mother, my grandmother Gi Gi, passed the recipe down to her, and a summer didn’t go by that we didn’t bake and enjoy many loaves of the dark, moist, sweet cake-like bread.
When my kiddos were babies, toddlers and preschoolers, I tried to create similar experiences for them. One of my favorite things to do with them in the summer was to buy a new plastic play pool at the grocery store, and fill it with buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’d make sure it was strategically positioned underneath the shade of the little apple tree in our back yard, and I’d let them gather pink rose petals from the hedge roses that grew alongside the side of our house in our suburban neighborhood.
I bought them red white and blue rocket pops from the Schwann’s man that stopped by once a week, and we spent hours and hours, outside together, digging in the homemade sandbox, blowing bubbles and drawing with sidewalk chalk on the small patio near the sliding door.
And they loved zucchini bread as much as I did. On hot Saturday mornings, I’d take them to the Farmer’s Market in Beaverton and we’d buy a wagon full of zucchini. I salvaged small cheese graters at the Goodwill, just the right size for a child’s hands, and the kids would help me make the exact bread I’d grown up making in my mother’s kitchen.
Our lives have changed and summers are much different than when the kids were little. Now, they have seemingly endless days of games and a practice, playing little league baseball and softball, and my oldest spends most of her time with her friends and is scheduled to start Volleyball Camp very soon. My weekday job keeps me from leisurely days of sipping iced tea in the back yard and hanging out with my kids when they are out of school. But there are certain things that take us all back in time... some tastes, the comforting smells of baking, and recipes that have been handed down from grandmother to mother, help ease the pain of change. Certain recipes and foods remind me of quiet, simpler summers.
This is the recipe that belongs to my family. I’ve changed it up a bit this year, and rather than pouring the silky cake-like batter in loaf pans, I make it into muffins, which are much more convenient, popped into a Ziploc bag and taken to work or to a baseball game.
If you have a little extra time, the best way to perk them up to add a dollop of cool, tangy, sweet lemon cream cheese frosting on top.
Gi Gi's Zucchini Muffins
3 eggs, beaten until frothy
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use melted unsalted butter now)
1 tablespoon vanilla pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini
Blend all of the above ingredients together in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
Sift together in a large bowl:
3 cups flour (I use a blend of pastry flour and whole wheat, but use whatever you like)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Pour the wet mixture into the dry and gently stir together until silky smooth. Bake in 2 loaf pans for 1 hour, or, if you opt to make muffins, just bake them for about 21 minutes, or until firm and golden around the edges.
Grandmother Gi Gi in her snappy green suit, 1967