The Food Almanac: Tuesday, November 13, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Bread Pudding Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Jonathunder

No two bread puddings are alike.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
The wiener was invented today in Vienna (called Wien by its citizens, who call themselves Wieners). The inventor was Johann George Lehner, who today in 1806 began selling what he called wienerwurst. That means "Vienna sausage." This must be an example of divergent evolution, since a hot dog has little in common with those awful little sausages we, for some reason, stock up on when hurricanes head our way. In any case, the wiener was just another sausage in a land of sausages until it was popularized by the World's Fair in St. Louis of 1904. Now it's the hot dog.

Annals Of Canned Fruit
Today in 1895, the first shipload of canned pineapple left Hawaii for the mainland. Where would we be without pineapple? In addition to its natural uses in desserts, it turns up in some unexpected places. The inclusion of pineapple in spicy Vietnamese shrimp and seafood soup is intriguing and good. Antoine's Alciatore sauce is a brown savory sauce made with caramelized pineapple; they serve it on steaks and (better) lamb chops. Pineapple juice is an effective tenderizer for tough cuts of beef. Pineapple would be pretty good in bread pudding. In moderation, anyway. Speaking of that. . .

Today's Flavor
Today is alleged to be National Indian Pudding Day. That's made with cornmeal and molasses, usually with a little spice, too. It has the texture of grits. Not a biggie. But here in New Orleans, we celebrate National Bread Pudding Day

Bread pudding is found all over the country, but nowhere is it better or more popular than in New Orleans, where it's all but the official regional dessert. No two bread puddings are alike. You find heavy versions and light ones. Some made with raisins, some with fruit, some with neither. Some with a lot of vanilla or cinnamon and some with less. There are chocolate (white and dark) bread puddings, banana bread puddings, praline bread puddings. You can even make bread pudding into a savory side dish with ingredients like mushrooms and cheese.

One thing all makers of bread pudding agree upon are the basic ingredients: bread (preferably stale French bread), eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. From there almost anything goes, as long as the flavor is rich. Even so, it's not expensive to make. Which is one of the reasons that bread pudding appears on the menus of New Orleans restaurants ranging from the most humble to the most expensive.

My own variation on the theme is something I learned from my mother. She topped hers with a layer of meringue, which she then toasted a little with a quick pass through a hot oven. In a slightly different form, that is the famous bread pudding soufflee at Commander's Palace. 

The final fillip of creativity in a good bread pudding is the sauce. Like the pudding itself, this receives a wide range of interpretation. It can be a custard, or a very dilute butter cream, or chocolate sauce. It's common for the sauce to contain rum, brandy, or whiskey, in various degrees ranging from the barely detectable to the equivalent of an after-dinner cordial. Infinite variability make a great dessert.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cinnamon Acres is thirty miles northeast of Little Rock, Arkansas. It's a small compound of large country homes on expansive lawns surrounded by pine tree forests. Some of the houses are in a block bounded on two sides by Cinnamon Lane and Nutmeg Lane. They need two streets called Egg Nog and Bread Pudding. The most interesting restaurant nearby is the Mean Pig BBQ, a mile and a half west on AR 321. If they don't use cinnamon in their sauce, they should.

Edible Dictionary
diplomat pudding, n.--An English-style dessert pudding, made in the same way as bread pudding, but using lady fingers or firm cake instead of bread. It's typically soaked in creme anglaise (a liquid custard) and served cold--usually refrigerated. It first appeared under that name in the early 1900s, but although all the reported origins involved meetings of diplomats, to would take a diplomat to decide which diplomats. Diplomat pudding is best known to chefs from Eastern Europe. The first place I ever saw it in New Orleans was at Chef Gunter Preuss's Versailles Restaurant.

Deft Dining Rule #595:
The bigger the portion of bread pudding, the better it's likely to be.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The bigger you make a bread pudding (up to the size of your largest baking dish), the better the bread pudding. Those made with a dozen eggs or more are the best.

Food In Film
Today in 1939, John Steinbeck's famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, about the lives of people who worked in agriculture in California, was published. I picked grapes once for Cakebread Cellars, and can't imagine what it must be to do that under the pressures of the harvest. Fortunately, most of that is done by machines these days.

Food Inventions
Today in 1930, a gizmo called a Rotolactor was installed in a daily laboratory in New Jersey. It was an automated system for milking cows. It looked like a merry-go-round. Fifty cows climbed aboard and were milked, washed, and dried so efficiently that the thing could handle almost 1700 cows a day. The Rotolactor was invented by Henry Jeffries, and was one of the major marvels of the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Food Namesakes
Civil War Brigadier General Edward Burd Grubb was born today in 1841. . . Ginger Aldren, the girlfriend of Elvis Presley who had the misfortune of being the person who found him dead, was born today in 1956.

Related Stories
10 Creative Bread Pudding RecipesBread Pudding Meets Baklava

Words To Eat By
"If you could make a pudding wi' thinking o' the batter, it 'ud be easy getting dinner."--George Eliot.