Amanda Thompson pulls her socks up, makes do and gets on with it.
Cakes in a time of crisis are an excellent idea, as long as your current crisis is an entirely food-scarcity-free one. Baking is so calming and mindful, we know. If you’ve always wanted the time to really commit to learning how to laminate pastry or sugar-spin or make stollen (or even to learn how to pronounce it correctly), being in lockdown would definitely be that time. If there was any bloody flour, eggs or goddam yeast on the shelves, that is.
(I wrote this before the official lockdown began, in those few days prior when panic-buying had gripped the nation. Hopefully people have relaxed and there might be bloody flour, eggs and goddam yeast on the shelves by now.)
I know, I know, we have plenty of food in this country. I know those gaps in the baking section, the toilet paper aisle, the meat department – even the freezer with those crappy frozen vege mixes that are all slimy beans and carrot cubes – were merely blips in the supply chain. Don’t bother mansplaining fast-moving consumer grocery item economics at me, I have a husband in the industry who has been enlivening our date nights with that for years and there’s only so much romance a girl can take, thanks. And I am certainly not here to have a go at you, my poor shittily paid local supermarket staff.
I thought I could make the best of this novel (geddit) situation with a bracing wartime recipe. What do you bake in times of scarcity? After a deep dive into my old recipe books, including a coverless but fascinating women’s journal from the UK circa 1944, the conclusion is – not a lot. Apparently eggs, sugar and butter were the problem ingredients in 1944, not flour or yeast. There was plenty of that, although it looks like flour was mostly wholemeal, which makes sense – wheat would have been far too precious to waste it by making refined flour. This interesting fact aside, the recipes were fairly dire. The most doable was actually a kind of shepherd’s pie with no meat, just garden vegetables like cauliflower and carrots and potatoes cooked, then layered up in a casserole dish with grated cheddar cheese in between and cooked again. I feel so sad at how watery and stringy the cheese must have ended up. The recipe ends with an unlikely promise that it provides enough protein and calories for a family of four over two dinners. They must have been very desperate times indeed.
I may have given up on wartime recipes but all is not lost – I am embracing a wartime ethos instead. I have taken myself in hand, pulled up my socks and told myself to make do and get on with it. A stern rummage in the abandoned bread bags next to the toaster has turned up several butt ends of stale loaves that nobody wanted. I will be using these in a tribute to all of our grandparents who had to go through this in the past, perhaps are having to go through it again now, and who have passed this recipe down through my family, at least, as a reminder that in every life it won’t always be sweet bread and roses – sometimes you’re going to have to make do with stale bread and butter.
These quantities were dictated, in true make-do fashion, by what I had. It made enough for four greedy people.
BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING
- 1 egg, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a nip of whiskey and a handful of raisins, if you have them (otherwise never mind)
- 500ml whole milk – again, use what you have. I could only get trim milk this week at the supermarket, and it’s hardly the stuff of great puddings. So I substituted a 250ml box of UHT milk we had left over from some camp trip and mixed it with 150ml of cream I also had, then topped it up with trim milk. Nobel Prize for cooking chemistry please!
- butter to spread thickly on 5 slices of bread (do not break my heart any further by using margarine)
- 5 slices of old bread
- 5 dessertspoons sugar (use one for every slice of bread)
Whisk the egg, nutmeg, whiskey and nutmeg into the milk (if you have these). Butter all the bread slices thickly on one side. Starting with bread, layer the bread, a sprinkling of sugar, and a sprinkling of raisins, then pour enough milk over to just about cover. Repeat until all of the ingredients are gone. I always put the first layer butter side down and last layer butter side up for crispness.
Place in the oven at around 175°C for about half an hour or until it has puffed up and looks toasty on top. It truly works fine without an egg, that’s how my mum made it, and raisins schmaisins. I once read a wonderful book as a child about someone who won a cooking competition by accidentally tipping a box of chocolate chips in their bread pudding and I can confirm that version is also a winner. Whiskey was fiercely vetoed by my children as “totally ruining it”, which only goes to show that good taste skips a generation. You, as always, should do you, dear reader. Stay safe and cook true to your heart.
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