pink peony

pink peony
old-fashioned peony

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Old-fashioned goodness

I love these snowy days for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes me want to cook. I keep thinking of all sorts of warming comfort foods, all designed to keep my farmer-husband fueled for the difficult tasks at hand: repairing a jillion broken water lines, pulling feed trucks out of icy, muddy bogs, hauling hay bales to the most remote pastures, replacing motors in silo feeders that balk at the cold, and just, in general, keeping everything alive and well.

When the cold wind blows and the snow flies, it is easy to think of meals to prepare. The oven helps warm the kitchen, and the good smells permeate the whole house. Today it is the delicious scent of nutmeg in the air that keeps pulling me back to the kitchen.

Bread pudding is probably my favorite dessert in the whole wide world. It is easy -- elementary cooking skills are all you need -- and you could probably make the case that it is even good for you. Most of the time I have all the ingredients on hand, so it's handy to make in a pinch. A real go-to choice, in my opinion.

But my opinion is colored by sentiment, so it isn't objective. Bread pudding was one of my grandmother's favorites, too, so it's no surprise it is mine. Oh, how I loved Grandmother's bread pudding! She didn't think it was anything special -- a way to use up leftovers, really. Grandmother was of the generation that wasted not, so when she had leftover biscuits, bread pudding would be on the table the next day. When I asked her how to make it, she just scoffed and said, "There's nothing to it. Just some milk and eggs and a little bit of sugar, all mixed up and poured over the broken biscuits."

How could something so humble taste so magnificent? Divine, really.

My maternal grandmother,
Iola Pitchford Kirkpatrick 1914-2007
So this morning, I was looking through some old files and came across a picture I'd saved of my grandmother, and suddenly I was craving bread pudding. I didn't have any leftover biscuits, but I scrounged in the freezer and found a lonely, slightly-frostbitten hamburger bun, a couple of hoagie rolls in a freezer bag, and from the cupboard pulled two thick slices of French bread.

Yes, I had some good bread, but that would defeat the purpose. I believe 'tis nobler to use up the old stuff.

I unwrapped and laid out on the counter that sad collection of odds and ends, to sit and go stale. You see, bread pudding is better if made with stale bread. It sort of retains its shape, as it soaks up the custard, which is a good thing.

And the custard is what makes it SOOOO good! First, if you've lost your flock of chickens to murder and mayhem like I have, run out and make friends with someone who has some -- big, fresh eggs with dark yellow yolks are the best for this. Then, if you have forgotten a half-pint of whipping cream that you thought you'd use at Christmas but it's hidden way in the back of the fridge, dig it out.

Minnie and her chix; she was the best little hen I had. All my hens were named
after my grandmother's many aunts. Minnie was a good mama. 

You're nearly there.

Measure 3/4 cup (or guess, like I did) of white sugar, mix it with three of those big eggs, the cup of whipping cream and another cup of milk (I always have skim, which makes the cream even more important.) Slosh in a tablespoon-ful of vanilla (guessing continues to work, and more is better), a pinch of salt, and about two tablespoons of melted butter (real is the only way to go.) Mix that up good with a fork or a whisk; never use a mixer -- waaaaay too much trouble.

Cut or break your bread into chunky cubes, about an inch across. Place them in a buttered baking dish and pour your custard over. Take a spoon and push the bread cubes down into the liquid, so that it is absorbed. Let it sit on the counter while your oven preheats to 325 degrees. Sprinkle the top generously -- no light hand here -- with nutmeg, and let it work its magic for about 45-50 minutes. The pudding will puff up (if you had good eggs, like Michelle Pointer's or Jessi Dreckman's) which is a good sign. Take it out when the edges of the bread cubes are nicely brown and it seems set in the center. Let it rest and watch it deflate. Smile, because things are going your way!

Now, Grandmother didn't do this next part, and the pudding is content to stand alone. But company is such a nice thing that I like to give it some, in the form of vanilla sauce. Put a half cup of brown sugar and about a tablespoon of flour in a saucepan; stir in a cup of milk (and a slosh of cream, if you have any left), another slosh of vanilla, another one of those beautiful eggs, a  dash of salt, whisk it all together and let it cook till thickened. Somewhere in there add a couple tablespoons of butter, too. Stir and stir, because it sort of curdles, but it's all good.

Finally, when your cold and hungry crew comes inside, serve up a dish of your bread pudding with warm sauce spooned over and innocently wait for the compliments to come. They will, I promise. Act like it was nothing. Modesty is a desirable trait.

But know that there are places on earth where this would be considered a true delicacy -- probably some fancy-schmancy restaurants in cities across this country. And you just whipped it up in your own little kitchen, with your own basic ingredients -- just like Grandmother did.

Luci Jane loves to gather eggs; she is named for Grandmother's
grandmothers, Lucinda Pitchford and Jane Luna.


  1. Oh, how I love bread pudding! I love all varieties - white chocolate, whiskey sauce, etc. but your version sounds perfect! Thanks for sharing. I've done my share of cooking in this bad weather too!

  2. Oh, that sounds delightful on a day like this. It's cold and rainy here.

    Doris High

  3. Hey Janet, next time you're over this way, why don't you stop by? I'd be glad to warm up the oven for you.