Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Food Fight: My Mother's Favorite Dish

First of all, a huge thank you to Allen at Eating Out Loud for hosting this Food Fight and also for motivating me to blog again. He probably doesn’t know, but when I read about the Mother’s Day blog I started writing. The reason is simple: when I posted my entry I felt like I should have something else for visitors to read.

Those of you who know me, know that I have a somewhat complicated family. I have had the fortune (or not so much, depending on the day and my mood about it all), of being raised by two influential women. The first, the mother who gave birth to me, gave me my first view of food and did a great job I think. There are not many food items I don’t like – a few I grew to like with age, to her delight I assume, and very few I won’t eat, period. She’s the one who, in fourth grade, was a classroom mother and brought enchiladas in on the day we studied Mexico. I don’t remember her making them before that fateful class, but she made them after. I have no idea where she found that recipe, or maybe my memory is faulty…I should ask her if we ever speak again…but she was my introduction to ethnic food. I can’t think of a Mexican restaurant in my small town in Southern Illinois in the late 1970’s that we ever went to. Is a foodie quality remembering restaurants you went to as a child? It has to be. She also taught me how to grow tomatoes and how to can them.

The second mother, my step-mother, was the one who taught me to experiment; that a recipe was only a guideline. She expanded my experience in gardening and canning for a couple of seasons, introduced me to my love of pretty cookbooks, and has had quite an impact on my relationship with food (some strikes I’m still recovering from). I owe her thanks for so much more than my culinary skills and appreciations, but that will be for another post.

One of my step-mother’s traditions, which she shared with me and I have tried to keep, is her family’s traditional English Christmas dinner – Standing Rib Roast, Yorkshire Pudding, Christmas Pudding (still haven’t developed a taste for that) and, my favorite, Tomato Pudding. To this day, I still wonder how, and why, someone came up with this combination, but I sure am thankful they did. It works with meats other than beef – I don’t think I’ve tried it with pork and haven’t with the more recently popular and available animals – turkey, chicken and lamb all work pretty well with it. The story, as I remember it, is that there was a woman who lived in north western Michigan, where my step-mother grew up, who came up with this recipe. I now have to question that memory a bit after reading a post by one of my favorite food writers,
J. Scott Wilson, about a CD that was made up of all food-related songs and corresponding recipes. The no-questions-asked-I’m-going-to-buy-it moment was when I found out Jeff Daniels, of “Escanaba in da Moonlight” and “Dumb and Dumber” fame, sang a song called “Tomato Puddin'”. While the recipe is slightly different than the one I have, it’s a GREAT song. And, it’s about something I thought I was one of the very few to know about. Maybe its history is far more than I’ll ever know. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

Tomato Pudding

1 stick butter, melted
1 inch square cubed Italian or French bread, enough to fill a 9” x 9” baking dish
1 15 oz can tomato puree
1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the bread in the dish and pour the melted butter over the top. Turn the pieces to coat them completely. Heat the puree in a sauce pan, add the brown sugar – start with 1/3 cup; stir, taste and add more until it has the “right” amount of sweetness. Add salt and pepper. Pour this over the top of the bread. Spread to cover as needed. (At this point, you can set it aside until everything else is about a half an hour away from being served…the bread will soak up the liquid and that’s a good thing.) Put in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, the top should just be starting to caramelize, but not burn.

And darn the luck, I had to make a batch last night, just to make sure I remembered the recipe (it’s one of the few I don’t play with) and to get a picture (a food photographer I am not). This may not be HER favorite dish, but it’s MY favorite one of hers. And I thank her for sharing it with me.

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