Every morning for breakfast I eat a slice of rhubarb or zucchini bread. I've been making the stuff for years, six loaves at a time, from a recipe I cut out of the back of a flour bag. The recipe has variations for zucchini, apple, pumpkin and carrot loaves. Because I get large amounts of rhubarb and zucchini in my garden, that is what my bread usually consists of.
I made a batch of the rhubarb kind this morning, and even though I know the recipe by heart, I pulled it out because I wanted to check how far I have come from the original.
My first modification, when I still had small children at home, was to triple the recipe, which made only two loaves. I was in industrial production mode in those years, and wouldn't turn on the oven unless there was a substantial amount of food to bake. But all I did was to multiply each ingredient by three and note that carefully on the margin. At the time, I firmly believed that if one worked hard and observed the rules, things would work out and life would make sense.
The history of my later adjustments parallels the history of dietary fads in America. In the 70s it was all about unrefined flours and fiber, so I replaced white flour with whole-wheat and added a cup of oat bran for good measure. The resulting bread was a little less dessert-like than the original, but nobody complained.
When sugar was revealed as the source of all evil, I cut the amount the recipe called for by half. In a household whose members were denied sugar except on major holidays, half the amount was better than none, so again, there were no complaints.
Remember in the 80s, when fat, any fat, was thought to be a killer? Emboldened by the success of my previous modifications, I decreased the amount of oil by a third. At this point, I began to wonder whether the loaves would cook properly. I was, after all, messing with some pretty significant ingredients. But the bread held together well, though it tasted even more Spartan than before.
Then came the emphasis on eating more fruits and vegetables, which happily coincided with my having, once again, a garden. So I increased the amount of fruit from six cups to ten. Surely, I thought, the loaves will fall apart now. They didn't. In fact, the big increase in fruit made them moister and tastier.
Then one time I was making the rhubarb recipe, which calls for grated lemon peel, and I didn't have a lemon. I threw in some lemon extract instead, again expecting disaster, but the bread tasted fine. Now I use lemon extract all the time, and ignore the voice inside me (whose voice, I wonder?) that tells me that this just isn't right.
The recipe also calls for the use of an electric beater, but since there is no way all that dough is going to fit in my mixer, I use the biggest spoon I have, and sort of stir and beat until my arm starts getting tired. The loaves rise all the same.
This leads me to two conclusions:
that I have stumbled on the world's most flexible and forgiving recipe, and
( an important lesson for a Catholic school girl like me) that taking liberties with the rules is not always a bad thing.