Several weeks ago, I signed up for a Food Writing class. I’ve written briefly about a similar class I attended in 2015. Whenever I dip back into the literary world, I feel grateful for the gift of receiving others’ writing and for the chance to share discussions about the craft. However, I’m mostly interested in the process of storytelling, the power of storytelling, the magic of storytelling – and how it helps us heal.
Much of my own creative writing journey, I’ve discovered, involves investigating experiences that often go underrepresentated in popular publications – including stories of poverty, oppression, intergenerational trauma, and resilience. In my two decades as a psychotherapist, I’ve also felt privileged to bear witness to many precious stories never previously spoken aloud. I’m less concerned about reifying privileged voices than elevating those that might never be heard.
So when our writing instructor invited us to create a recipe (or else bring one that we’d like to share) in last week’s class, I wrote up notes about this recipe from my grandmother Edith, who grew up poor in the Bronx and dropped out of high school, although she loved to read and clearly held artistic sensibilities that she never had a chance to pursue. Edith’s favorite flower was the daisy, “because they are so happy,” and although she struggled with health issues that kept her homebound during too many of the years that I remember her, she reveled in others’ adventures, in the fiction novels she read, and traveled to galaxies far away, through the science fiction films she loved.
This is the only explicit recipe passed down to me in my family. That fact, in particular, makes this recipe noteworthy. Because let’s face it – this recipe wouldn’t win awards outside of my family. Its hero is a vegetable that is often dismissed as rather pedestrian although its abundance has filled many tables.
Sometimes, the best dishes stand alone.
My grandfather Nate took up edible gardening after he retired from Kaiser Steel Mill in the early 1980’s. His zucchini patch was particularly impressive – more mountain than hill, and by the end of each summer, my grandparents’ front porch and stoop would be stacked with two-foot-long squash.
Perhaps in response to this overwhelming bounty, my grandmother Edith created or else copied this recipe for zucchini bread, which I found among her belongings when she passed, printed on a now yellowing index card in her slanting cursive print. I substitute applesauce for oil, don’t care for nuts, and sometimes throw in a handful of dark chocolate chips if I’m craving extra sweetness.
Beat together 3 eggs, 1 cup oil, 2 cups sugar.
Add 2 cups coarsely grated zucchini, 1 tbsp vanilla
Sift 3 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon. Add to above 1 cup chopped nuts, ½ cup raisins.
Bake 350 degrees 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean.
Note to reader: This recipe is best prepared while wearing a flowered house apron and singing along to Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby. Serve warm, with Sanka.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Can you identify a recipe that was passed down to you, either before or after a family member’s death? If so, what type of connection do you feel to the dish – a link to your cultural heritage? The emotional memory of sharing this food with others? A savoring experience of culinary pleasure? Perhaps all of the above?
Do you believe that reclaiming lost recipes can be an act of empowerment, either for yourself or your family? Do you hold the recipe (and story) for a beloved dish that you hope to pass down, too?