Let me tell you a little ditty about Thelma Radeke (aka Grandma). My father’s mother, Thelma was born in South Dakota in 1914, and at the young and fresh age of 20, she married my Grandfather and began her life in Iowa. They eventually settled in the tiny farming town of Clarence (population 961!), and my grandfather managed the local creamery, churning out award winning butter for all of Benton County. Butter is in my genes, people, and I am not mad about it.
Thelma was a tough lady and managed the family with an iron fist. Also, the woman could BAKE. Like good Lutheran, Iowa farmhouse family matriarch next level sh**. I was born on Thelma’s 66th birthday, so I like to think some of her baking magic passed down to me with that connection. I didn’t get to spend much time with her — she died when I was only six years old — but she did leave quite an impression on my family. I remember as a child, carefully fingering the delicate recipe cards in our family recipe binder — cards with tiny yellow flowers and perfect cursive script, full of her kitchen wisdom.
The legend of her dutch apple pie is known far and wide (it’s my father’s number one request come holiday time), but for me, it’s her zucchini bread that I cherish. It’s the first thing I remember baking (for my 4th grade bake sale) and it’s all I want when I’m craving some family comfort food. And now, good people of Plumber’s Daughter, I am sharing her magic with you.
You ready? OK, let’s do this.
Grandma Radeke’s Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves (if you only need one loaf, just cut the recipe in half…but you’ll want to make two, promise)
You will need:
2½ cups zucchini, grated (about 2 medium-sized zucchini will do the trick)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup apple sauce
3 eggs, beaten lightly
3 cups flour
½ white sugar
½ light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Optional additions (optional but HIGHLY recommended):
1 cup pecans, chopped
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Kitchen equipment: two 8×4 bread pans, large mixing bowl, box grater
You know this is a recipe from the early twentieth century because there’s not a lot of fuss or precision to it. There’s no ‘ensure the temperature is exactly 54 degrees’ or ‘beat the eggs for exactly 3.42 minutes until just fluffed’ — it’s basically just ‘put everything all in one bowl and stir until it comes together’. Thank you, Iowa.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour both of your bread pans and set aside until you need them.
Wash and pat dry your zucchini and cut off one end. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the largest holes on your box grater. Two medium zucchini should produce about 2 1/2 cups. Set aside and turn your attention to the other ingredients.
Put all of your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to incorporate. Add the oil, apple sauce and lightly beaten eggs and stir. At this point, you’ll be like, ‘Tina. I thought we were making bread? Shouldn’t this look like a nice smooth batter, not some weird zucchini cookie dough?’ Don’t fret, my dear baker friend. Add the shredded zucchini and watch the magic happen. Because zucchini has a TON of water in it, your cookie dough-ish mixture will transform into a beautiful batter as the zucchini mixes in with the other ingredients. It will be light and bouncy and batter-ific, just like Grandma Radeke made it.
Once your batter is completely incorporated, fold in the nuts and/or chocolate chips if you’re using them (and you should use them), and pour the batter into your buttered and floured bread pans. Top each pan with an even sprinkling of about one tablespoon of sanding sugar.
Bake for one hour until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
I can’t eat zucchini bread without cream cheese, and I suggest you follow suit. The slightly sour bite to cream cheese pairs perfectly with the rich, slightly sweet flavor of the zucchini bread, it’s pure heaven. Grandma Radeke knew what she was doing in the kitchen, and it shines in this simple recipe. So get your Iowa farm kitchen baking on, and make some zucchini bread for Thelma. Enjoy!