I found Eleanor's wartime ration books recently while looking through some old family photos. I'm fascinated by the way her young adulthood was completely transformed by the onset of World War II-- she dealt with rationing, a fiance at war, a manufacturing job... all things I will never face, and she did it with aplomb. The ration books, especially, are completely foreign objects to me: I don't understand how they work or how they were used, and most of all I don't understand why she was able to save two mostly-full books. Didn't she need the coupons inside? These were the conditions under which Eleanor learned to cook when she was in her early 20s. Eleanor was 18 when World War II began, and nearly 25 when it ended. That means that her formative cooking years were characterised by rations, Victory Gardens, and the complete lack of many 'luxury' ingredients that I consider staples. I think her style adapted accordingly: if you learn to cook during times of hardship, then maybe that becomes a skill you'll always have.
This recipe for Zucchini Bread (or, as it would be known here in Scotland, Courgette Tea Cake) has made it through three generations in my family: Eleanor made it for her family, my mom made it for me, and now I make it for us. It's easy to see why this recipe persists across generational boundaries: it's simple, affordable, and the ingredients are nearly always in season. Even during World War II, this recipe would have been more straightforward than many others because it contains no butter and no milk, and the courgettes included can easily be grown in most climates, so they wouldn't need to be transported very far. Plus, even though there's a large amount of sugar contained in this recipe, it also makes a huge amount of bread, so the payoff is definitely worth it.
Judging by the stains on this recipe, Eleanor must have made this bread many times, and I'm glad she did, because it was one of my favourite treats when I was growing up. (Right up there with my mom's pound cake and her macaroni and cheese... both of which she also nicked from Eleanor's collection). This bread is the kind of thing you can make on a Sunday and enjoy all week as a quick breakfast before you go to work. Or the kind of thing you can take to a sick friend to help them recover. It's just as good no matter whether you enjoy it with your bowling league (like Eleanor), with a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle (like my mom), or at your desk with a latte during an early work morning (like me). I love adaptable recipes like this one, and I love that I can trace this recipe through three generations of my family. I may never have been able to make this recipe with Eleanor, but it's still special to me to know that I'm cooking the same things she did, seventy years later on a different continent.
I think that's the beauty of family recipes: they unite us across time and place, making our family history into bite-sized pieces that we can share across generations. My passion for family cooking is why I'm so glad to be participating in Project STIR, a cool new cooking project developed by fellow blogger Sarah Shotts. Project STIR is a series of documentary films launching this fall on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans & Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe including countries like: Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia & England. Click here to learn more about how to be involved.
5 spoons out of five. This recipe is easy, versatile, and nearly foolproof. It's delicious as breakfast, a snack, or even as dessert. Best of all, it exemplifies everything I love about this project: it's a recipe passed down through the generations of my family that I'm now cooking in my Scottish kitchen under a totally different name... but still tasting just as delicious!
Check out Project STIR and all the cool stuff they are doing to make sure family recipes like this one are preserved for the future, and while you're at it, try this courgette bread-- you'll love it!
Courgette Walnut Tea Cake
Grease and flour two medium loaf pans, or, like me, one large and one small loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
Chop or break nuts into medium pieces.
Beat eggs, then gradually beat in sugar and oil.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients to egg mixture, alternating with zucchini/courgette.
Stir in nuts, vanilla, and raisins (if using).
Pour into loaf pans and cook on the bottom rack of the oven for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove from oven, let cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool.
1 c walnuts
2 c sugar
1 c vegetable oil
3 ½ c flour
1 ½ t baking soda
1 ½ t salt
2 t cinnamon
¾ t baking powder
2 c zucchini/courgette, grated
1 t vanilla
1 c raisins (optional)