I have much to write about this book Eat My Words by Janet Theophano but, for now, I'm just going to give you an appetizer.
As some of you might have guessed rightly, with the recent death of my father-in-law my menu plans fell into the potato bin last week. I was left with a fresh loaf of French bread on my countertop which quickly dried out and was of no use to anyone short of a bread sponge for soup. Due to tons of food (including two more loaves of French bread) brought to the house during the days before and following the funeral, soup was no where on the menu.
Tonight I decided to recycle that French loaf into a bread pudding. And not just any bread pudding, but the Queen of Puddings that seems to have held its title since 1865. Despite having written about bread pudding before, I was sweetened and eager to try an alternative recipe. Was this one...could this one...be more Queenly than the recipe from my childhood?
In the book Eat My Words the author writes (page 44):
"Picture an afternoon tea party on a cool, crisp spring day. Laura Bigelow has served her latest culinary creation. She had gotten the recipe from her sister-in-law who said a woman in her fellowship group had served it the week before. Why not try it? Bigelow brings out the delicately browned pudding on a lovely porcelain plate. The women exchange news while drinking tea and nibbling on dainty cakes and the delectable 'Queen of Puddings.' It is a success!
"I have found the identical recipe, or one with slight variations, in many nineteenth-century northeastern cookery manuscripts. Nearly all the recipes have the same ingredients and the same method of preparation. The "Queen of Puddings" was clearly a popular dish that circulated among middle-class women in, at least, the northeastern United States. Although the attributions in one woman's book do not illuminate the ways in which women's social circles overlapped, the widespread popularity of the dish indicates the breadth of women's net-works."
The recipe for the "Queen of Puddings" is found in Eat My Words and, as we are a bread-pudding-loving family, I was eager to try this old recipe. So I did.
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Queen of Puddings
1 pint of bread crumbs, 1 quart of milk, 1 cup of sugar. Yolks of four eggs, beaten. Grated rind of one lemon. Piece of butter size of a small egg. Bake until done but not watery. Whip the whites of the eggs stiff and beat in a small teacup of sugar in which has been stirred the juice of the lemon. Spread over the pudding jelly or any sweet [--]. Pour the whites of the eggs over this and bake until it is a light brown.
April 27, 1865/ Maria Sherrill/ Maria Borton/ Witnesses to the merit of this pudding
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Don't you just love it! This is the original way recipes were shared before Fannie Farmer whipped up her now-famous Boston Cooking-School Cookbook in 1896 which spoonfed us the exact measurements of recipes.
I don't know about you, but I love to tweak my recipes and make them my own. This made my venture that much more interesting. So I tied my culinery apron strings, pushed my 19th century curls behind my ears and got to work on decoding this little scrap of recipe tutelage.
- a "small teacup of sugar" tainted by the juice of one lemon
- "piece of butter size of one small egg"
- Let's see...I don't have a wood burning stove so let's try this cooking at 350 F
It was an interesting experiment and it connected me to the women of this social network who sipped tea and nibbled on dainty cakes while discussing the news of the day and exchanging this same recipe on scraps of paper.
I did fail to think through a couple of things when I made it though. It called for a quart of milk so I used a quart of regular 1% milk (that equals 4 cups, folks) in my frig. As I slid the pudding into my oven I had the gnawing anxiety that it was not going to turn out as good as Oma's. And I asked myself Why?. Off the top of my head, I already knew. One word answered my question "Richness".
A bread pudding devoid of rich ingredients is bland and tasteless.
1) I followed the recipe to a "T". I was already nervous because the recipe is dated 1865. I used my blanded, watered-down store-bought milk when unpasteurized, unskimmed cow's milk would have been used in Bigelow's kitchen. I made a mental note that next time I need to use the evaporated milk Oma's recipe calls for versus plain milk. Evaporated milk is naturally much richer than the 1% we drink at home.
2) No where in this old-fashion recipe does it call for cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices. I'm used to a bread pudding doctored and peppered with these sweet spices and couldn't imagine biting into one void of these pleasantries. Perhaps the grated lemon rind in the pudding and the sweetened lemon topping were the substitutes. But, at the last minute, I pulled the pudding from the oven, grabbed my cinnamon shaker and liberally shook the grated spice onto the surface of the pudding.
[The Verdict: The recipe for Queen of Puddings is truly Queenly. It's delicious and stands on its own. It does not need evaporated milk. Regular milk (even 1%) is good enough. I don't think the cinnamon I added post haste made any difference atall. The lemon stands on its own merits. One tastes the faint hint of lemon in each and every bite. It's creamy, more like a jelly, and very comforting to eat. Several versions are found online. This one at deliaonline.com (and many others I found online) includes a topping of raspberry jam. Jam or not, this site is correct in saying: "This, with a cloud of meringue on top, is probably one of the lightest and most mouthwatering puddings ever invented." I agree. This is the ultimate comfort pudding.]
[ETA: This pudding is ten times better if allowed to sit overnight before eating. It firms up making the cutting and eating of it more pleasurable.]