Anne Sullivan earned a soft spot in our heart last week. She showed up at the Medicine Beach bread pick-up with a warm casserole of bread pudding. Fresh out of the oven! She’d made it just for the Happy Monk Baker!
I’d been asking people what they liked to do with their bread. Anne replied on Facebook that bread pudding is “an amazing way to use leftover bread, especially if prepared with leftover brioche!” 1
And then there I was, holding her bread pudding, breathing in this heady aroma of spiced and baked goodness.
Jennifer and I ate almost all of it for dessert that evening! It was the essence of comfort food! Beautiful spices, beautiful tenderness. A lovely, thoughtful gift!
(Well, we did have a dinner guest, a non-dessert person, who tried some and pronounced it delicious.)
Alas, I forgot to take a picture.
Sharing the Pender tables
Several Happy Monk customers, on the other hand, happily shared their photos and bread stories. Their loaves take a prominent place at the table, and one family even purchased a beautiful Japanese bread knife to cut their Happy Monk bread.
Malt bread memory
A South Pender resident, an anonymous contributor, had a strong memory of a particular bread from his childhood:
In Toronto, as a boy, my parents would buy a ‘malt loaf.’ It was about 12 inches long and 4 inches in diameter, tubular, light brown, and ringed with corrugations. Therefore easy to find the slice lines.
Malt bread toasted with butter was as close to indecency and addiction as a 10-year-old could get. It’s discovery was akin to first hearing Borodin’s orchestral music or seeing teenage girls in tight sweaters. Ahh. And one has been known to eat a whole buttered affliction in a single sitting. Alas… never found its like west of Lake Huron.
The memory, here, carries strains of music and sensuality, at least as he remembers it. Those are the best memories, when the senses are up front and centre as they are here.
Think of Marcel Proust when he tastes a humble madeleine cake in the beginning of his novel cycle, À la recherche du temps perdu. It unleashes a string of memories and story that fills seven volumes! Malt bread could do the same!
You asked for it!
Anne Sullivan’s gesture last Friday brought to mind a bread pudding reminiscence of my own.
Many years ago, I wrote to Gourmet magazine requesting a recipe for a cookie I had tasted at Sooke Harbour House. This was the iconic Vancouver Island inn and restaurant famous for its local and indigenous cuisine.
Gourmet magazine in those days had a regular feature called “You Asked For It,” in which readers could request recipes from restaurants and food establishments. The editors would reach out to the restaurant, obtain the recipe, then publish it in the magazine.
Months after sending my request, I got an answer from the Gourmet editors. (This was before email. I had sent my letter via “snail mail”).
The Sooke Harbour House chef, they said, could not recall the cookie I was interested in. When he made cookies, he just threw together whatever there was on hand. There was no recipe, in other words.
I wanted cookies! I got bread pudding, instead.
The chef, instead, had offered recipes for two different kinds of bread pudding served at the restaurant. Since I had not explicitly requested the bread pudding recipes, Gourmet would not publish them. But the editors did not want to disappoint, so they passed on those recipes to me.
This was no small thing. Sooke Harbour House, at the time, was being heralded as one of Canada’s best new restaurants. One of the most prominent notices came from The New York Times, as I recall. They were an early inspiration for the “local food” movement and still grow much of what they serve in the restaurant. 2
I am sorry to say the two bread pudding recipes were, to me, like a consolation prize. I wanted cookies! “Someday, I’ll make these bread puddings, but not now,” I said, and filed them away. And forgot about them …
The scent of seduction
Until, years later, on an early date with my lovely Jennifer, she told me she liked bread pudding.
It was as if those recipes had been sitting in my back pocket, waiting for this invitation. “Why don’t you come to my place on Saturday,” I offered, not wanting to appear too eager. She accepted.
I’ve lost the recipes now, but each of the two bread puddings featured some form of alcohol. One was undoubtedly rum, the other possibly cognac. They were creamy, spiced, and dappled with raisins and other dried fruit. The kitchen was full of intoxicating smells when she arrived. It was the scent of seduction.
Jennifer kicked off her shoes and curled up on the couch. The wine was waiting, the candles were lit, I brought out the two casseroles and dishes, and that is as far as this story goes!
Many hearty thanks to my Happy Monk friends for sending pictures and sharing stories about their bread. It is humbling and inspiring to see how much our bread is welcomed at tables across the Pender Islands. And it is heart-warming to hear stories about how bread unites us all in a common wealth, in way or another.
To the staff of life!
Brioche is a yeast-raised product enriched with butter and eggs and sometimes sweetened with sugar. It often has a flaky, almost pastry-like texture, but can also make for soft, luxurious hamburger buns. Brioche belongs to the Viennoiserie category of bakery products, along with croissants, for example.↩