Black and white illustration of the 33 optional ingredients in the original A to Z bread, from Apples to Zucchini. Ink of paper. Own work. May 2024.

The California origin of "A to Z Bread"

In which I obsessively trace the history and authorship of the A to Z bread recipe

by AK Krajewska

The post you are about to read is not a prelude to a recipe. This is not a recipe blog[1], and this is not a recipe blog post. This is a tale of mild obsession (mine) to find the origin of a recipe, and to correctly credit the creator.

I was baking A to Z bread for years before I thought to figure out where it came from. You can find recipes for "A to Z Bread" all over the web. Before the internet recipes were consolidated into rent-seeking advertising farms and you could find recipes for pretty much anything, you could already find recipes for "A to Z Bread" all over people's weird personal sites. And before that, it kept getting collected in family recipe folders and reprinted in coil-bound lay-flat recipe books with names like Sharing Our Best by assorted charities. If you're a certain age you know the kind! And even if you aren't a certain age, you've probably seen photos of them or seen them in thrift stores.

You would be forgiven if you thought that A to Z bread is just one of those American standards like banana bread or blueberry muffins, or heck, apple pie, and that it's been passed down since ye olden days from grandmother to granddaughter, homey and ancient. My hunch was that it was probably developed in the Midwest, or maybe New England.

Well, you'd be wrong! And I was wrong! But let me take a moment to pause and explain, especially for the non-Americans.

Line drawing of a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and a cinnamon bun

What is A to Z bread? #

A to Z bread is a sweet, rich bread leavened with baking soda and baking powder. It contains eggs and a great deal of oil, making it very moist. The titular "A to Z" are the fillings which are stirred into the bread, a long list of things from applesauce to zucchini. You don't put all of them in, rather you choose any that you like. If you have had banana bread, then you've essentially had A to Z bread. That's the texture and general flavor.

A to Z bread is very forgiving to variations, and is indeed designed for them. You can mix everything in one big bowl, and the standard recipe gives two big loaves. If you take a loaf to a potluck, you can still have a loaf for yourself for later.

Local hero invents delicious bread #

The hint that "A to Z Bread" recipes all come from a single origin is the A to Z list itself. It's quite long and rather strange, and almost all the recipes have the same A to Z options. It's like reading the Child Ballads and tracing the connections through unusual repeated features.

The other hint, and this is admittedly a big one, is that some recipes do cite a specific person and time:

"The A to Z Bread, the inspiration of Hazel Gentry of Walnut Creek was the grand prize winner in the Contra Costa Times Favorite Recipes Contest in 1976. It is a recipe for a basic quick bread with enough variations to delight bread enthusiasts for years to come!" [2]

So, not ancient, just from the 70s, and not from the Midwest or New England, but designed in California. That is, assuming the internet isn't lying. And you can't just assume that.

Hazel Gentry and the original "A to Z Bread" #

Having kept you in suspense so long, almost like a recipe blog, I will do so no longer: Yes, it's true, Hazel Gentry created the original "A to Z Bread" recipe. While I couldn't find a digitized copy of the Contra Costa Times from June 1, 1977 where the recipe was originally printed, I did find a reference in the same publication from 2000, "This recipe Hazel Gentry's A to Z Bread ran in the paper years ago. Can you make it more healthful?"[3]

Even more informative was an article from the San Antonio Express-News in 2010, which referenced the last time they reprinted the recipe and had a quote from Hazel Gentry:

'In response to the original 2001 request, we heard from former San Antonian Hazel Lawson Gentry, who lived in Walnut Creek, Calif., where she was owner of Food With Love catering company and whose sister, San Antonian Tommie Lawson Plageman, had passed on a copy of our column to her. She told us that in 1976, "I entered the Contra Costa Times Recipe Contest and was the Grand Prize Winner with my A to Z Bread - a quick bread that works with anything from apples to zucchini with many other in between." Gentry noted that the recipe was "the most requested recipe in the history of this contest" and was being used in area school lunch programs."' [4]

Given that, and other references I found to Food With Love catering and Hazel Gentry, I feel confident that she is the originator of the "A to Z Bread" recipe. Maybe one day I'll take a field trip to one of the local libraries that has the June 1, 1977 Contra Costa Times in its collection.

Finally, though it is difficult to verify if this is the real Hazel Gentry, there is a comment at Bellyfull A to Z Quick Bread left by Hazel Lawson Gentry in 2018:

So glad you are enjoying this recipe…have a little fun look up the original A to Z recipe in the Contra Costa Times Grand Prize Winner 1976. See its evolution. Have fun.

I hope that really was her, because I like to imagine her enjoying the vast proliferation of her original recipe.

  1. Statement accurate at time of publication. Who knows what I will do with this blog in years to come? ↩︎

  2. Simply Best Recipes via Web Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20121102183326/http://www.simply-best-recipes.com/recipes-a-z-bread.html ↩︎

  3. Magee, Elaine. "A TO Z BREAD LOSES F-A-T, C-A-L-O-R-I-E-S." Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), May 31, 2000: G07. NewsBank: America's News – Historical and Current. (San Francisco Public Library members can access the archive at https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/apps/news/document-view?p=AMNEWS&docref=news/1064A3CFD63CD127.) ↩︎

  4. Haram, Karen. "Recipe Find; A to Z Bread utilizes fruits or vegetables." San Antonio Express-News (TX), February 14, 2010: 02J. NewsBank: America's News – Historical and Current. (San Francisco Public Library members can access the archive at https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.sfpl.org/apps/news/document-view?p=AMNEWS&docref=news/12DF2861F1C852E0.) ↩︎