Melvin LaShaw carefully scrapes excess sugar off the top of the measuring cup with a spoon handle.
To LaShaw, baking zucchini bread is similar to farming wheat or raising Black Angus cattle. It’s important to pay attention to each detail.
LaShaw, 85, never doubles the recipe, as it could produce a measuring error. Each egg gets checked for imperfections. He uses only tender zucchini. Before baking, LaShaw gently thumps bubbles out of the batter.
Each loaf comes out of LaShaw’s oven golden and sweet, with a hint of nutmeg. The zucchini bread recipe is a family secret written out on a faded, stained index card. LaShaw rarely looks at it.
His loaves of bread will likely sell for outrageous sums at the Southeast Spokane County Fair’s auction this weekend, just as they did last year. LaShaw was amazed last year when one loaf sold for $22.
“I don’t want to toot my own horn, but it went really good,” LaShaw said of the sale.
The community got into the impromptu auction. Kids pooled money together in an attempt to out-bid adults and then ate their loot on the spot. It was so much fun, they’re going to do an expanded version of the auction this year, said Gail Kopp, a fair trustee.
The Southeast Spokane County Fair starts Friday and runs through Sunday in Rockford, a small town south of Spokane Valley.
The auction came about because the fair needed money, and LaShaw offered his zucchini bread.
“He had been kind of locally famous for his zucchini bread,” Kopp said. “It was just his way of doing his part.”
There had been rumors last year that the Southeast Spokane County Fair, held in the farming community of Rockford each year, might not continue. Volunteers felt worn out. Costs kept increasing while revenues fell, Kopp said.
The fair has been around for 60 years, first held in Latah before moving to Rockford in 1946. It has a traditional feel, centered around kids who bring in livestock and vegetables and 4-H projects to be judged. It’s free, so no one knows exactly how many people show up, but Kopp estimates 3,000 to 5,000.
LaShaw – who raised five children in the area and sees the fair as an important community event – didn’t want the tradition to end.
LaShaw has only been baking zucchini bread for the past three years, shortly before his wife, Edith, died. Yet he whipped up four loaves Wednesday as if he had spent his life in the kitchen instead of the farm fields.
“A person is never too old to learn. When you’re too old to learn, it’s time to die,” LaShaw says as he shuffled between his sink and stove.
After putting the last loaf in the oven, LaShaw smiled and picked up the beaters of his electric mixer and began to lick off the batter.
“You’ve got to always have a sample of the product,” LaShaw said.