Bread pudding was one of the few desserts we grew up on, although we might have it just as easily for breakfast as we did for dessert. Dessert just wasn’t part of the menu in my mother’s kitchen, except for occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving.
It’s easy to understand how bread pudding managed to make it to the table. We always had bread; my mother baked bread twice a week in large roasting pans. We seldom had “store bought bread” in the house until much later, after my mother began working. (My sister recalls that we had the only mother in the neighborhood who worked full time—mind you, this was a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when most mothers stayed at home).
I don’t think my mother had a recipe for making bread pudding although it’s entirely possible that she may have followed the recipe for Bread Puff Pudding that I found in her Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook. The recipe is a simple combination of milk, bread crumbs, a bit of butter, a little sugar, vanilla, and a couple of eggs. These would have been ingredients on hand in my mother’s kitchen. Mom’s bread pudding usually contained raisins, too.
I began thinking about bread pudding after my daughter in law had surgery on her throat and requested that, and tapioca pudding while she recuperated, so I began searching through my files for recipes. One of the recipes sounded good that I decided to make it. Well, I want you to know, it was a great bread pudding—I did have to sample it, of course!
Bread pudding seems to be one of those dessert dishes that have almost disappeared from today’s menus. Why do you suppose this is? Have we all become so busy that the only kind of puddings we make anymore are of the instant packaged variety that require only the addition of milk—or, equally tasteless — a pre-made item that you pick up in the dairy section of the supermarket, which only requires peeling off a foil cover?
In a search on Google.com, I found a short but illuminating clue to the history of bread pudding. To make bread pudding, an oven is necessary; you can’t make it very well in a pot on top of the stove. In early pioneer times food was cooked over an open fire. The English version of a dish like plum pudding was cooked on top of a stove but the whole mess was put into a pudding cloth that was suspended into a pot of water. The English pudding came into its own only with the invention of the cloth pudding bag at the end of the sixteenth century.
To make something like bread pudding, as we know it, stoves—with ovens—had to be invented and make their way into ordinary households.
Bread pudding is most likely a creation of the mid-or-late 1800s, after the invention of kitchen stoves, devised during frugal periods, to make use of stale bread.
Here is the recipe I found in an old newspaper article.
You will need:
¼ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter (should be softened, room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk (undiluted)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
7 slices stale white sandwich bread, toasted
½ cup seedless raisins or dried cranberries
Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed until mix is well creamed, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cream of tartar and ginger. Beat on low speed until well-blended, about 3 minutes.
Break toasted bread into small pieces and arrange in even layer in bottom of an ungreased 8×8” baking pan. Sprinkle on raisins. Pour milk mixture over the bread and let it stand for about 1 hour, occasionally patting down any bread that floats to the top.
Bake 450 degrees 20-25 minutes or until top is very well browned and mixture shakes like a bowl of jelly when pan is shaken. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8-10 servings.
Note: raisins, roasted pecans or other nuts or coconut can be added to recipe; I’ve discovered that dried blueberries are also a nice addition.
Do you make bread pudding any more? Would you like to share a recipe with us?
(Originally published in Inky Trail News. Reprinted with permission)