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