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Bye, Bye, Banana Bread—The Zucchini Are Here!

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Of course, you’ve heard the phrase, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” I would like to say this particularly applies to the whole COVID-19 thing. Let’s take a look at some of the good things that have come out of this trying time.

For one thing, people are spending more time with their families, or perhaps we should say more enforced time with their families, but hopefully it’s quality time. Another good thing is that more people than ever are in the kitchen baking. If you’ve had a hard time finding flour, yeast and sugar lately and thought the shortage was due to panic buying or hoarding, it is actually because people are not eating out but are baking for themselves and their families. If you have been anywhere near Facebook, then you know that banana bread, touted as the comfort food to beat all comfort foods, has become the baking poster child of the COVID quarantine. Without a doubt, banana bread has been the most-searched recipe on the web since this whole shelter-in-place thing began. Personally, I would think, after two months of waiting for those green bananas to turn slimy-brown so one could whip them up into a delicious bread, that one would be ready for a change. Enter that versatile vegetable, that chameleon of cucurbits, that glorious garden icon of summer—zucchini. 

Yes, my gardening and baking friends, summer is here and the zucchini are plentiful. It may only be June, but I have already sautéed it in extra virgin, doused it with soy sauce in stir-fry, stuffed it with ground beef and sausage, and tossed it on the barbie with the steaks and chicken. Sliced thin with peppers, onions and garlic, it makes a fabulous frittata or quiche. I have already dusted off my spiralizer, turning out amazing yard-long strings of zoodles. When they really start coming on strong, I battle the bees to fill my basket with the blossoms to sauté for buttery-flavored goodness. And nothing says good neighbor like a freshly baked loaf of zucchini bread.

My recipe for zucchini bread began many years ago, written on a recipe card, on which I could still read my own handwriting. And ironically enough, it started out as a banana bread recipe. It called for three over-ripe bananas, sugar, shortening, a couple eggs, milk, vanilla, flour, salt, soda and walnuts at one’s own discretion. Over the years since it was first passed on to me by my high school home economics teacher, it has evolved to include more bananas, more eggs and oil as a substitute for the shortening. Nothing wrong with the Crisco, but I feel that it is more appreciated in my pie crust, and extra oil just makes it extra moist. Oftentimes, I’ll use olive oil for that extra rich Mediterranean flavor.

Now, the idea of putting fruits and vegetables such as bananas, apples, carrots and pumpkin into cakes and breads goes back to the beginning of time, and they are all feasible additions for flavor and moistness. But who in the world ever came up with the idea of putting zucchini in sweet bread? I mean, come on, it’s green. And it’s visible. And what’s more, it’s tasteless. So here is one scenario based on the way I personally cook. I get up in the morning and think, “Hmmm, I’m going to bake something today; what do I have on hand?” Well, it’s summer, so pumpkin is out, although I could use that frozen stuff from last fall, but that was so last fall. Just made at least 900 loaves of orange-nut and lemon-poppyseed bread throughout a long spring. No apples at this point, got a few carrots leftover from winter. Twenty-three zucchinis staring at me from a basket on the counter. Well, there you have it. Grate up a couple of cups and hope the kids don’t notice the bright green flecks; pour in a goodly amount of vanilla and a smidge of nutmeg for flavor and fragrance; another great opportunity to use up those eggs, also chattering at me from the counter; and voila, we’ve got two fabulous loaves of tasty sweet bread ready to welcome drop-ins and for drop-offs at friends and family. And a couple less zucchini to worry about going to waste. 

Well, it could have gone like that. Actually, zucchini bread was first made in America in the 19th century when housewives used pearlash, a derivative of potash, as a chemical leavening agent. It was known as sweet or tea bread, and with squash being so prolific, it soon became a viable alternative and reliable source of fruit for adding moisture. Most agree that zucchini doesn’t have any real flavor, but everyone has their own additions to jazz it up. One of my friends adds cinnamon and pumpkin spice for obvious reasons. Another friend uses buttermilk in place of the milk, which seems to give it a spongier texture. I, myself, use this same basic recipe to make all my sweet breads, including chocolate pecan zucchini, cherry vanilla zucchini, as well as orange nut, lemon poppyseed, pumpkin spice and, of course, banana bread. I merely adjust the amount of fruit and liquid accordingly for each recipe. 

Whatever recipe you use, it’s time to bust out of the banana bread lockdown with some summer-inspired zucchini bread. 

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Zucchini Bread

Wet Ingredients
2 cups grated zucchini

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

¼ cup milk

Dry Ingredients
3¼ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Mix wet ingredients well. Whisk together dry ingredients, add to wet ingredients and mix just until blended. Pour into 2 sprayed loaf pans. Bake 55 minutes in preheated 350° oven. Cool for 15-20 minutes before removing from pans. Try to save some for friends who may drop in.