NILES - Ann Wright may be a small woman, but she's used to a big kitchen.
"I was a cook at Washington School in Niles," she said recently at her home of 45 years in Niles. "It's very hard to cook for one person after cooking for three to four hundred a day."
Her kitchen, with silver handles on ceiling-high cupboards that alternate pastel colors of pink and green, smells of an already-baking Italian Zucchini Pie. Wright looks petite even in this kitchen, where the gas stove top is about up to her waist as she cooks zucchini and onion in butter for another pie.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Ann Wright prepares her Italian Zucchini Pie at her home in Niles.
Wright, who said at one time in her life she measured 5 foot 2, got the recipe from her sister-in-law, a "really good cook."
This day, she's using store-bought zucchini, because the vegetables in her own garden aren't quite ready. Also growing are tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers and celery, an ingredient she grows because in her school experience, it was used often.
Wright loved her days at the school - the people, the resources in the kitchen and the way it enabled her to care for her children, since she was widowed when they were young. Of course, her children, and now her grandchildren, always get a school lunch.
Italian Zucchini Pie
Submitted by Ann Wright
4 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup coursely chopped onion
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 eggs, well beaten
8 ounces mozzarella cheese
8-ounce can crescent rolls
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In 10-inch skillet, cook zucchini and onions in margarine until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley and seasonings. In a large bowl, beat eggs and cheese. Stir in vegetable mixture.
Separate dough into eight triangles. Place in ungreased 10-inch pie pan. Press on bottom and up sides to form crust. Spread crust with mustard. Add filling, and bake until crust is brown.
Stuffed Pepper Soup
Submitted by Ann Wright
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
6 cups water
6 beef bouillon cubes
4 large green peppers, cut up
1 29-ounce can crushed (or diced) tomatoes
2 cans tomato soup
1 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked rice
Brown and drain beef with onion. Add bouillon cubes and water. Bring to a boil, and add remaining ingredients except rice. Cook one to two hours until pepper is tender. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper or ketchup. Add rice and heat through.
"If you couldn't cook good in school, you couldn't cook good anywhere, because they have such good stuff to work with," she said. "Unfortunately, it isn't always stuff that the kids are wild about."
As she lined a pie pan with crescent roll triangles, Wright remembered days when she had another connection to the Tribune besides being a Trumbull Cook - she delivered it, mostly to the high-rise apartment building around the corner. Trying to support her family and come up with funds for special occasions, such as weddings, she would sometimes come home from work, lay down, deliver the newspaper and then go to a second job.
"When I collected, it used to take me a long time because I would visit with everybody," she said.
Now 76 and retired, Wright is proud of her Niles McKinley High School class of 1951, which she said is very active and gets together often. She also is involved at her church, where she is the wedding coordinator. She also sews, formerly by machine and now by hand because of trouble with her eyesight.
Her church, First United Methodist of Niles, has luncheons to which she often brings her bonus recipe, Stuffed Pepper Soup. She makes about five batches of it, which she says always goes over really well.
A few years ago, Wright's family put together a cookbook called "We Are Family." It includes recipes from family members in Ireland, and Wright collected those in person. It also has some unique submissions, such as Kiss Me Nots, which involve red onion and bread cut with a shot glass, in addition to Chicken Bog and six versions of Kellogg's crunchy baked chicken.
She uses her garden's bounty to make zucchini bread and cookies, and when the surplus keeps coming, she uses it "in everything," such as cooking it with potatoes. Letting it go to waste is something she can't seem to do.
"My children tease me and call me a Depression-age child because I don't waste anything," she said.
It's certainly not a waste in the pie, which has a nice combination of flavors with the spices and cheese.
"What's nice about it is you can freeze it and have it in the winter, which I do," she said.