Cooking was something I was always interested in doing. The first meal I ever cooked was a southern fried chicken dinner when I was around 11-years old. After that, I simply enjoyed cooking whenever the mood struck. I cooked regularly as a teen, then into my adulthood, I carried on.
Suzanne was an amazing cook—she was a true “foodie”. She loved to go to a restaurant and try something new. Then, as soon as the time was right, she would recreate the same meal at home. Her knack was getting the flavors almost identical to whatever we had eaten at the restaurant. It was a natural ability of hers that never ceased to amaze.
And she was always open to try a new recipe. She was exceptionally adept at anything she put her head and hands to—especially when it came to cooking and baking.
But over the years, the idea of making meals became almost a competition between us. It made me raise my game, that’s for certain! And tonight, I made an exceptionally tasty and moist vegan and gluten free banana bread. It was Suzanne’s ability to adapt and recreate something that inspired me to create this loaf cake.
A Baking Tradition
Suzi had a knack for experimenting with flavors and ingredients that made sense to her. When she tasted a friend’s family “Chocolate Beetroot Cake”, she immediately knew she could use other root vegetables. Our friend gave her the chocolate beetroot cake recipe and she adapted it.
After her first cancer diagnosis, Suzanne decided not to return to her highly stressful job with the Crown Prosecution Service. Instead, she chose to bake for a living.
At that time, we were both working odd jobs. We had chosen to focus on our daughters in the shadow of her recovery, the collapsed economy, and a dearth of marketing consulting work. She continuously adapted recipes and created what we would later refer to as “square roots”. These were her loaf cakes (not square at all) that had a root vegetable mixed into the ingredients.
The loaf cakes started as a hobby. She was doing them in our kitchen but selling them through a friend’s bakery in town. When she started to gain some notoriety for them, she had to move the operation into the bakery. What started as a few of each loaf cake became a 72-108 loaves per day job—something that never crossed our minds when she started.
Of course, part of it was based on the reputation of the bakery. It was well known in the UK and it had a loyal fan base as well as some highly renowned celebrity chefs who used the bread in their restaurants. The loaf cakes became part of that same reputation.
In addition to the chocolate beetroot, Suzanne had created a carrot, cranberry and orange loaf, a zucchini (courgette) and lime loaf, and a parsnip and lemon loaf. When one of the London based celebrity chefs undertook his annual walking trek to the Lake District (where we lived and where the bakery was located), he stopped for a loaf of bread. He also was gifted a slice of the parsnip and lemon loaf—after exclaiming that “parsnips are the worst vegetable on the planet”.
Several hours later, he phoned the bakery from the top of Helvellyn (England’s highest peak), and shouted down the phone to the bakery’s owner exclaiming, “This is the only way a parsnip should ever be served by anyone!”
And that pretty much encapsulated how amazing her baking skills were… I have spent many years creating my own baked goods, and in the last few years have excelled at baking certain things.
On Wednesday afternoon, after cleaning out my refrigerator for the first time in weeks, I used the decaying bananas (that I keep in the veg drawer) to make a chocolate, pecan and banana loaf. It brought to mind something that happened earlier this week that I wanted to share.
As you will know from my earlier posts, Suzanne died on August 18, 2018. Almost exactly one year after she died, I had a garden building at Hughes Hall, Cambridge (where we met) dedicated in her memory.
The Suzanne Ziegler Garden Room is a structure that was added to the College grounds long after she and I attended. It was erected in a spot where we spent many hours enjoying the fresh air and relaxed environs of the College’s spacious garden.
Since CoVID, the College had to adapt its food and beverage operations. In the late summer/early autumn months erected a tented café for students to use. A couple of weeks ago, the café went into operation. The garden building forms part of the new café. Last week, I received a letter from the College Development Officer asking if it would be okay if they “name the “temporary” café “The Suzanne Ziegler Garden Café.”
Of course I agreed! I then received a really lovely message from the F&B manager at College asking if Suzanne had a favorite recipe he could recreate for his menu. So, now he has Suzanne’s amazing brownie recipe. Soon, he will have the recipes for her chocolate beetroot loaf cake and her carrot, cranberry and orange loaf cake.
As for me, while bittersweet to have them bestow this honor, I cannot wait to return to England in 2021. I will go to the College to visit the Suzanne Ziegler Garden Café and see her recipes on the menu. Even though I have been vegan for four years, I may partake in a cake in the place where it all started for us both…
This is what living forever means to me. She will always have a permanent place at Hughes Hall. So will I.