A couple of days ago I made some bread pudding. Here's a photo of it, as 'staged' for use in a workshop on re-purposing later this month:
For purposes of the re-purposing workshop, the idea here is that the stale bread on the left may be re-purposed into the bread pudding on the right via the recipe on the card. The knife has also been re-purposed. Steve's brother Al made and attached the hand-carved wooden handle after their mother partially melted the original plastic handle. I love this knife and use it often in our old Idaho kitchen. It fits my hand perfectly and feels much better than a plastic knife handle.
Now I have to admit that the photo is a bit deceptive. There's no bread in the 'bread pudding' on the right. The carb component consists entirely of banana-nut muffins I had made the previous week. They contained enough sugar and butter that I was able to cut back on those ingredients.
Whenever I make bread pudding, I think of my Grandma Talbott. As I learned years later, what she made was actually 'bread-and-butter pudding,' where the bread is not cubed but thickly buttered, and each slice cut into quarters before being placed in a pyrex baking dish and covered with custard ingredients (milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla) before going into the oven. Grandma performed some special twist of the wrist when she put the buttered bread into the dish, and every time I make bread pudding I visualize this ritualistic movement.
Grandma Talbott assembled her bread-and-butter pudding on an enameled kitchen table, where she also rolled out pastry and noodles. In retropect, I think Grandpa Talbott must have shortened the table's legs for her. She was 4'11" tall, and he (a six-footer) adapted many things to her size. These things included her car, where a carpeted wooden box, made to fit the space exactly, enabled her to reach the pedals.
These reminiscences of the 1940s are the first to come to mind when I make bread pudding, but they're not the only ones. During the 1990s I sang in a choir which offered a lavish dessert reception after their annual Christmas concert. My contribution was usually a persimmon bread made with fruit from a neighbor's tree. Steve would slice the bread very thin and arrange it on a platter in beautiful concentric circles. One particular year, probably 1995, the bread began to curl as soon as it was sliced. By the time we reached the concert site it was absolutely inedible -- dry as a bone and hard as a rock. Retracing my steps, I realized that I had not put in any fat. I'm not sure why I didn't just throw the bread away, but later I was glad I didn't.
The day after the concert, I attended a committee meeting where I told some friends about my persimmon bread disaster. "Make bread pudding!" said Marilyn. She went on to tell about a recent visit to New Orleans where she and her husband had attended a cooking demo by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. He told his audience that any baked goods (cookies, cake, biscuits, etc.) could be used in bread pudding along with fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, or whatever one had on hand. New Orleans being New Orleans, Emeril probably topped the pudding with a bourbon sauce.
That night I made bread pudding with my failed persimmon bread and it was wonderful. There was enough fat in the recipe to rejuvenate the dry persimmon bread, and there was enough spice in the persimmon bread to flavor the bread pudding nicely. Chopped nuts enhanced the texture. I shared the bread pudding at a holiday potluck the next day and received rave reviews. Re-purposing, indeed!
I have to say something about the word pudding here. Americans generally expect pudding to be a viscous dessert, always served cold in a small bowl, and usually made with a Jello or Royal pudding mix (instant or regular). Bread pudding is pudding in the British sense of the word, which, in the U.K., is a synonym for dessert.
So I've been enjoying re-purposed banana-nut bread pudding for breakfast, and thinking about the theme of my blog. It occurs to me now that the theme I've been belaboring in my recent series of posts on Chayote Chaos does not have to be my only theme. A wide range of topics can and should express a wide range of themes. I'm thinking about how things happening in the present so often evoke the past and how, when this happens, my blog becomes an evolving memoir with a focal point that shifts from present to past and back again.