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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of Fate and Vintage Recipes

In my mind, the world is a better place because of bread pudding. Sometimes I think it’s possible that if we dropped that, instead of bombs, word peace would be restored. All kidding aside— how could anyone help but smile at the sublime custard formed through the act of mixing and baking eggs, sugar, bread and milk? Not only does the complex sweetness linger long past the last swallow— the ingredients are all there. At your finger tips. Not only is bread pudding easy to make, it’s as versatile as you can get besides.

Over the years, I’ve made many variations—chocolate, cinnamon, blueberry almond, raisin, apple, and raspberry white chocolate, but no matter the flavor, this luscious dish melts way down, to the intersection of where memory and comfort collide (which if you want to, you can read more about here).  Tasting it has such an impact on me that, when the chef/co-owner of the cheese/gourmet food shop where I’ve worked the last few months made chocolate bread pudding with Nutella during my first week there, my eyes rolled back into my head a bit and I shuffled a quiet two-step. His creation confirmed that my slightly impulsive decision to work there was fueled by more than just a whim.

I do believe in serendipity and divine coincidences and here is one of the reasons why. A few years ago, back when I still worked in an office, a friend brought in a set of her Grandmother’s cookbooks. I was so fascinated with the vintage recipes that I copied several, and over the past two years have turned to them in delight, always though, slightly disappointed that something as trivial as a massive layoff precluded me from perusing those books again.

Last week, my curiosity, or nostalgia or whatever you want to call it got the best of me and I searched Amazon, parting with an unbudgeted thirteen dollars to purchase a used copy of the book, Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume I. Printed in 1949, it arrived at my house yesterday.

My eyes widened at a recipe called "Strawberry Electric Light Preserves" that, no word of a lie, instructs the reader to lay a dish of boiled and sugared strawberries under a lamp, to drape the whole thing with a terrycloth towel and leave the light on for 36 hours. While contemplating that minor fire hazard, I explored the book further and was enchanted to encounter a page marked by a yellowing piece of paper containing a penciled note.

Does it surprise you that the slip marked the directions for bread pudding? Not me. The handwritten sheet offered a variation on the recipe in the book beside it. As I perused the words, I pictured a middle-aged woman in a floral cotton dress covered in an ironed apron, pulling a hot pudding out of her porcelain, Magic Chef oven.  She spoons it into a chipped, ceramic bowl and turning to a worn kitchen table, serves it with a pitcher of cream to a man with weathered cheeks and calloused palms.  It’s an image I can almost taste.

In truth, I have no idea whose hands first touched my new, old book. Whoever it was, she (and I assume it was a “she,”) is likely gone now. Luckily for me though, her volume, which promises “… the latest developments in home economics...” made its way to a used book dealer.  After that, fate intervened. Because, I’m quite sure that regardless of how the book ended in my hands, when the original owner wrote that bread pudding note, she was doing it for someone like me.

***
Oh, and by the way, underneath the handwritten recipe, I discovered a small addition:

“Hic coughs [Stet]
 ½ tsp baking soda
½ glass of water
Sip slowly”

15 comments:

glnroz said...

I would bet you thought you wrote a post about a "new" book of recipes...well the post was a recipe within itself. Such a relaxing read...(and fun)

jbchicoine said...

I don't know which I love more--old cookbooks or bread pudding!

Anne Gallagher said...

I made my father a grapenut pudding for Christmas from and old time recipe. He loved it.

And bread pudding. OMG. Thanks for the reminder. I definitely have to whip up some of that. It's going to snow again.

I love old cookbooks. That's the real way to cook. I hate microwaves.

Wine and Words said...

Well I dare say dropping bread pudding from B52's would do a lot less damage than fruit cakes, which should be flagged as artilary in my book.

There are those foods that comfort. Just the smell does the trick. Basil for me. Not sure why, but it's gotta be Basil.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So if we can just get some bread pudding to North and South Korea, everything will be all right? I'm all in favor!

Ann Best said...

What a neat story about serendipity.

How amazing what one might find in an old book.

I love old books, and bread pudding.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Nutella bread pudding???? WANT!
I'm such a fool for bread pudding and I could eat Nutella by the spoonful. One of my favorite Italy memories is hot crepes with Nutella.
This sounds fantastic. And I love the handwritten notes you found. It's like treasures in the attic.
(Unrelated but not to be overlooked, by word verification is catweed. Is that not a great word?)

Tamika: said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never tried bread pudding. The way you described it though, I'm really missing out:)

Jon Paul said...

What a apropos blending of story and food. Tantalizing and evocative to say the least.

Liza, I just wanted to stop in and say thank you. I'm celebrating my blogs one year anniversary today, and you were a big part of why I kept with it.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks! :D

Colette said...

Oh my gosh, what a great find! I would have been mesmerized.

The Empress said...

I love bread pudding. Hot, soft bread pudding leaves me speechless.

And I love old cookbooks, too.

Your copy sounds darling, with the note on hiccoughs.

Helen Ginger said...

What are Hic coughs? Hmm. I have never made bread pudding. I feel like I'm lacking a wonderful experience. I'm not sure I've ever eaten any!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I LOVE bread pudding. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. The weird thing is I used to hate it. But then I tried Famous Dave's Bread pudding and I was a changed woman. Now we make it for Christmas Eve using the Famous Dave's recipe. It's truly divine (but huge--you have to cut the recipe in half and the sauce recipe in 1/4).

Anyway, that cookbook sounds like such a treasure!! I love going through old books like that. I used to enjoy buying used books for my literature classes in part because of the notes I'd find in the margins. It's like falling into history. I used to have an ancient Fannie Farmer cookbook which my husband threw away a couple years ago because it was so used that it had torn in half and he thought it was silly to keep it around (plus he bought me a "new" edition). I still haven't fully forgiven him for throwing it out as I haven't been able to find it again. There's just nothing like the original.

Ro Magnolia said...

Oh, I totally agree with you on Meryl Streep. She rocks any movie! And as for the book vs. movie thing ... isn't that so often the case? I'm glad to hear the book is much better and will definitely make a point of seeking it out. :)

'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

Just discovering bread pudding myself this year. I know, sad to have missed it all these years. Let's just say that what my mother called bread pudding was definitely NOT bread pudding. So, I've been reluctant to try or understand what the big deal is.
Now I'm beginning to know... Made Yorkshire Pudding and had to make a whole 'nother roast 2 days later just so I could eat it again.
Holy Moly is that good stuff!