Unbelievably Great

In the small town where I spend some (not nearly enough) time, there is a used bookstore. It is almost always open, but the owner has never been there whenever I’ve stopped in. He does, however, leave a price list posted next to the money jar:

  • Ordinary Books: $1.00
  • Good Books: $2.00
  • Extraordinary books: $3.00
  • Great Books: $5.00
  • Spectacular Books: $10.00
  • Unbelievably Great Books: $20.00

I always like to browse the cooking section, and occasionally, amid titles like “1001 5-Minute Meals” and “The 1983 Annual Campbell’s Tomato Soup Cookbook,” which bear faded covers that belie the near-perfect-condition pages that show just how much they were (not) loved, I discover a gem.

I had never heard of the little unassuming volume entitled Favorite Breads From Rose Lane Farm, nor of its author Ada Lou Roberts, but that didn’t stop me from fishing into my pocket for a $5 bill. It was in good (not perfect!) condition, and it’s generally a good bet that any 40+ year old bread book will turn out to qualify for Great Book status.

As I was about to drop the money in, I noticed that the insides of the front and back covers were filled with writing: the book’s previous owner had recorded some of her own recipes. Now I knew it was a Great Book for sure. On second thought, better make that Spectacular. I dropped $10 into the jar.

Now I do have to confess that I am somewhat of a cookbook junkie, and a lot of my books are ones I love perusing, but rarely if ever make anything from. I just like knowing they’re there if I ever need them. Favorite Breads was like that – I read through it, then tucked it on the shelf for a rainy day.

The rainy day wasn’t really rainy; in fact it was a beautiful summer day on which I found myself face to face with a homegrown, rather enormous zucchini. It seems to be programmed into my DNA that overgrown zucchini must become zucchini bread, but there was a problem: I had no sugar in the house, and no butter either. (What kind of a baking kitchen am I running here? It’s a fair question.) I did, however, have some olive oil and a pint of golden raw honey. I needed a recipe for honey-sweetened, oil-shortened zucchini bread.

Although it had been consigned to the shelf for long enough that I really didn’t remember what specific recipes lived there, my instincts told me I might find one that fit the bill in Favorite Breads. But the index said otherwise: no zucchini bread here. But hold the phone, there it was, in black and blue and red ink inside the back cover: “My Own Zucchini Bread.” What’s more, it called for oil and no butter, and honey as the sole sweetener. Jackpot!

A few tweaks later – a little less honey here, the addition of some grated carrot there, throwing in some sourdough toss-off just because I could, etc. – I had what I don’t mind saying was a Great bread, now My Own Zucchini Bread, recorded for some future used bookstore buff/baking enthusiast inside the back cover of the Unbelievably Great Favorite Breads From Rose Lane Farm.

I think I owe someone another $10.

My Own Zucchini Bread
(adapted from My Own Zucchini Bread)

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 1/3 c. honey
  • 2 c. coarsely grated unpeeled zucchini (discard the seeds)
  • 1 c. coarsely grated carrot
  • 2 c. (270 g.) white whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. coriander
  • 1 c. coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/3 c. sourdough toss-off (can be overmature)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 300F.
  2. Oil two 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper, then lightly oil the paper.
  3. Stir all ingredients together until just combined.
  4. Bake at 300F for about 1 hour.

Post a comment » 25 Comments

  1. Mama always said life was like a box a chocolates, never know what you’re gonna get( Forrest Gump, said that not me.)

    Susan,
    Way to go, your on your way to writing or re-writing a book!

  2. Susan what a great story, I enjoyed reading this very much! Old cookbooks are always great treasures to find, but when they are filled of handwritten notes from the previous owners they are even better. I look forward to other recipes from this you might share in the future, meanwhile I still have some zucchini that were destined for a Ligurian-style savory pie, but might very well be used instead to try your wonderful zucchini bread with honey.

  3. What a lovely read Susan.

  4. I’m shocked at your confession!
    What a grand read and baking! I enjoyed every minute of this one. The only way I can see to making it last is to bake your bread! That looks so gorgeous.

  5. Susan-this was an unbelievably great story. (One of the best I have read all year)Thanks for sharing the adventure, the story and the food. Absolutely charming!

  6. What a wonderful book store and what an amazing bread. It looks so good Susan, a must try.

  7. How charming! You have put into words the very essence of the joy so many of us find in cooking, collecting used cookbooks, writing about the many ways food nourishes us, and connecting with others who share those same passions. Every “gifted” zucchini should include a copy of your recipe, and your story!

  8. Freaking awesome is what that is. I’m infatuated with books in general and a good used book store (several of which I do have here) is like cocaine to me. Good old cookbooks with notes in them are perfect treasures. How very cool that you found what you found and made that with it!

  9. hey susan, if i found your scribblings on a used book, i’d pay them a lot of money. your 47% rye bread is rising right now.

  10. Are you auctioning that one? I am bidding:)

  11. Thanks for your wonderful comments, everyone. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the story. Sharing it here makes it that much more special for me.

  12. [...] I love used cookbooks, especially used cookbooks with the previous owner’s notes written inside, it seems I’m not alone in that and perhaps those notes are what make books Unbelievably Great. [...]

  13. Just jumped over from 2 Frog Home. I wanted to say Hi and nice blog!

    Great Post! I love the pics of your recipes. Some of mine are starting to look like that!

    Carolyn

  14. I love the honour system payment policy at the bookstore! And I particularly love that the previous owner of the cookbook clearly made this bread several times – my favourite parts are the changes made to the amounts of oil and baking powder.

    The bread looks wonderful too. I would never have thought of adding coriander to this sort of bread. What a brilliant idea.

    Wouldn’t the previous owner of the book be pleased that you are loving her zucchini bread?

  15. Thanks for the good reminder to post these pictures http://justwanderingthrough.blogspot.com/2008/09/grammas-cookbook.html

    I went through my grandma’s cookbook last night and it brought a smile. Haven’t found a zucchini recipe yet!

  16. What a great post! Last year, I ordered a used book through Amazon, and to my great joy, the inside cover and blank pages of the book were filled with the previous owner’s recipes and thoughts. What a treasure!

  17. What a great story. It sounds fabulous!

  18. What a wonderful story! (Not to mention the recipe, which will be tried in this house shortly!) It’s a special treat to find such a gem, and it’s often the old, truly-pre-loved cookbooks on my shelf that are the most special to me. I’ve been too busy to get to my local second-hand store lately, but I’m feeling a visit coming on. Thanks again!

  19. Ahh serendipity, often a bakers best friend. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I can’t wait to try this. It reminds me of the times when I had enough space for a garden and produced zucchini that — no lie — were a foot and a half long and several inches in diameter. Of course I made bread, and in those days, actually in a microwave. This is quite the find! I love the whole story!

  21. I loved loved loved that post! I am such a used bookstore junkie, but I’ve never had such a perfect experience. Is paying at your bookstore on the honor system? You actually decide on the quality of the book before you pay? That’s amazing. I love how serendipitous that whole story was. Just great.

  22. Interesting story. Wow, cant believe that u made it great bread with honey. Let me try it too and let u know. Can you pls tell me what’s sourdough toss-off (can be overmature)? Can you pls show me its brand with link which should be easily available in any regular grocery store like Kroger?

  23. Rajee, sourdough toss-off is what you would normally throw away when you feed a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is a culture of wild yeast and bacteria that is used to leaven bread. It is “fed” regularly with flour and water. It cannot be bought in a supermarket, but you can make one yourself.
    For more about sourdough in general, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough
    For how to start a sourdough starter, see here: http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/13/raising-a-starter/

  24. Hi Susan …i recently started following yeast spotting and love all your posts..this one i stumbled today and loved the story . enjoyed reading it. The bread is great n i am going to try it for sure.

  25. Hi Susan,
    I stumbled upon your site while looking for a ciabatta recipe, (trying that this weekend) and I’m thrilled to have found it.
    I was also looking for a Z-bread recipe that uses honey and am intrigued with this one. Does the recipe have to have the sourdough toss off? Does it help the leavening process, or add tang or something? can it be omitted or replaced with something else?
    While finding a honey sweetened Z-bread recipe made me instantly happy, seeing the sourdough as an ingredient reminded me that I’m still in mourning…yes last week my sister in law unwittingly tossed out my 1.5 year old starter (grown from scratch) that I had hibernating in my frig. She thought it was something gone bad. Arrgg!
    So you see, I’m without starter but would like to try your recipe anyway and am just wondering what to expect.

    Thanks
    Angela

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