Saturday, August 05, 2006

Making A Difference

I have always heard about people who, for one reason or another, just want “to make a difference.” I’ve usually dismissed these people as young and naive, overly ambitious, totally clueless, or all of the above. I have rarely wanted to make a difference. Those times when I thought I did or even could, I was quickly reminded that I was young and naive, overly ambitious, totally clueless, or all of the above. And those who reminded me were usually right.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that people often make a difference when they don’t intend to. And, frequently, the difference they’ve made is not one they would have tried to make.

A case in point: zucchini bread. Ken and I planted a vegetable garden the first full summer after we arrived here in France. A significant plot of our garden space is devoted (or yielded) to zucchini. In French, the zucchini (courgette) plant is often called a voyageur, or traveler. This means, of course, that the plant takes over, invades, and generally produces more fruit than you can possibly use, a concept not unknown to those all over the world who grow zucchini. In our first French potager, or vegetable garden, the zucchini did not disappoint.

After gorging ourselves on countless different zucchini dishes ranging from pasta sauce with zucchini to stir-fried zucchini to deep-fried zucchini to zucchini pie (yes, zucchini pie), I looked on the internet for recipes for a dish I remember from the 1970’s: zucchini bread. I found several good recipes, modified them and tested out my new recipe several times. The zucchini kept coming. More zucchini bread. Finally, I started to share my bounty with the neighbors.

Two loaves of fresh zucchini bread cooling outside.

First up were Maryvonne and Bernard across the street. They often invited us for apéritifs (drinks before dinner). One never arrives for apéritifs empty-handed, so I thought instead of the usual boring flower gift, I’d bring a loaf of freshly baked homemade zucchini bread. Typically American; very quaint. It was a hit – at least our hosts were polite enough to praise the cake, which they promptly served with vermouth, whisky, wine and the other drinks being offered that evening.

Shortly after that, our neighbors’ daughter and son-in-law invited us to their home for dinner. I made a zucchini bread, tied it up in a pretty ribbon, and presented it to our hosts on arrival. Maryvonne insisted that it was a wonderful part of the aperitif course. And it was. Dinner after was great, too, but that’s another story.

A few weeks later, our neighbors on the other side of our hamlet invited us for drinks. Again, I brought the trusted zucchini bread, and again, it was served with the drinks. Either everybody was being incredibly polite or they really thought this was a great appetizer. In each case, the bread was devoured along with champagne, whiskey, wine, and whatever else was served.

I took zucchini bread to two more events: a dinner at friends’ house in town and a lunch at Maryvonne’s and Bernard’s house with yet another of our neighbors and the woman from whom we bought our house. Both times, the bread was served with the drinks before the meal, and both times, the praise was lavish. Although a similar spiced bread/cake is common in France (called pain d’épices), Zucchini bread is not generally known. It is exotic. Making a cake with squash, quelle idée! It was a hit.

Everyone who tasted my zucchini bread wanted the recipe. I’ve since translated the recipe (which I significantly modified from the one I downloaded – that one had too much sugar and too much cinnamon for my tastes, and I made a few other adjustments) and have distributed it to at least five French households. Maryvonne told me that she’s also shared it with her daughters (she has five). All these French women are now at various stages of experimenting with my zucchini bread recipe. Who knows how far this will go?

If zucchini bread becomes a French standard, you will be among the few who will know how it happened. In this small part of France, I will have made a difference. With squash. By the way, I think I can say that I am now neither young and naïve (the former is a fact; the latter is open to debate) nor overly ambitious. I am also not totally clueless, having picked up a few clues here and there along the way. At least I know how to make a pretty decent zucchini bread.


  1. Hi Walt - your recipe sounds interesting, we also live close to St Aignan and like you we have more corgettes than we know what to do with - what about publishing your recipe, we'd love to try it. By the way, we are English and we love your blog also Ken's and have picked up so much helpful info re: our area, places to take our visitors etc., please don't stop - keep on blogging!

  2. Thanks for the comments. I'll certainly post the recipe soon. I have it in English and French. Any preference?

  3. What a wonderful story, Walt. Imagine making a difference, one loaf of zucchini bread a time! Care to share your recipe for zucchini pie -- is it sweet or savory?

  4. Susan, thanks! Sure, I'll do the zucchini pie recipe in an upcoming post. It's savory, much like a quiche.


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