Sarah (Ferguson) Potter’s Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

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Alta, as a teenager

As a genealogist, it’s not every day that you meet someone in the same profession as you, at least not in person. That’s why I’m so lucky to know Sarah (Ferguson) Potter. Sarah is a genealogist, who has been researching her own genealogy since she was in 8th grade. Five years ago she started Modern Ancestry, a genealogy company that focuses on combining research with creative products, such as family history books, custom photo albums, documentary-style films and recipe books.

When I reached out to Sarah about this post, I was so excited that she agreed to participate. Sometimes when I interview ladies for this blog, there is some back and forth on the recipe they would like to share. However, Sarah had recently gifted her sister with a collection of their favorite family dishes while growing up for Christmas, so she had several recipes to choose from. On top of that, she had already done so much of her own research on her family that it was fascinating to read everything she had to share about her grandmother.  And what better way to kick off Women’s History Month than by remembering an entrepreneurial American woman?

Sarah’s grandmother, Alta, was born in 1915 in Minooka, Illinois and raised in Morris, Illinois. She was the oldest of 8 children, and helped raise her 7 siblings with her single mother during the Depression. She quit high school at age 15 and began working at the Cameron Inn, where she lived with the owners and worked every job she could.

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Later, after she married her husband, Chet Ferguson, Alta worked with her mother, Carrie, at the Carson House cooking homemade meals for weary travelers and guests. Twelve years after she married her husband, she and her husband went on to have three children. During that time, she devoted her time to raising her children, but in the 1960s she decided to go back to work. She began working at a restaurant in Morris called Sis’ Drive-In. Later, she and a business partner would buy the restaurant and run it themselves before selling in the early 1980s.

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Sarah and her grandmother, Alta.

While Sarah was lucky enough to have several of her grandmother’s recipes to choose from, she found it difficult to pick one that held the best memories of her grandmother. She settled on her grandmother’s bread pudding. While unsure exactly where the recipe came from, it was a favorite at her grandmother’s restaurant, and years later customers would approach her father and aunts and tell them how much they loved the dish.

It was a dish that Sarah found so delicious that she remembered it through the years. It was not a dish that her grandmother made for every meal, but certainly for special occasions, and she was kind enough to share the recipe here on the Hungry Genealogist. After trying the recipe, let me tell you, you will not be disappointed. The recipe is simple to make and is made with simple ingredients, but the dish comes out of the oven looking quite luxurious and tasting even better than it looks.

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Grandma’s Olde Time Bread Pudding

Olde Time Bread Pudding Ingredients:
6 slices day-old bread
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups milk, scalded
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Olde Time Bread Pudding Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast the bread and butter while still hot. Arrange the bread in a buttered baking dish that is at least one quart in size. Sprinkle the raisins over the top of the toast.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, and all but 2 tbsp of the sugar. Add the milk and whisk to blend.

Pour the egg and milk mixture over the toast and raisins and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread down into the milk mixture to absorb.

Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar and sprinkle over the top of the mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or cold.

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Sarah told me that, even though her grandmother is no longer living, her cousin David still makes her grandmother’s bread pudding recipe, with a rum or bourbon sauce. She said that she has not made the recipe since her grandmother passed away, but that she hopes to try to make it for herself and her family soon. If you would like to learn more about the work that Sarah does, please visit her website and check it out for yourself! Sarah, thank you so much for telling us about your impressive grandmother, and sharing her delicious recipe!

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

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It was painfully cold here in Chicago this past weekend. The kind of cold that, when I get into the house after putting a load of clothes in the wash in our basement, I find myself irrationally angry. Angry cold. That’s where we are. And, as a perfect Chicago response, it was almost 50 degrees yesterday. Just warm enough to keep people from losing their damn minds.

Freezing temps gives me the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. In my last post, I told you how my mom had been sending me my grandma’s old recipes. The recipe parade continues. Usually mom will send recipes for dishes that I’ve had 100 times and sometimes she sends me giant questions marks. One of the more recent question marks piqued my interest: cottage pudding.

Grandma had a habit of writing down all the ingredients in a recipe, along with oven temperatures and cooking time. What she fails to include, though, are basically any description or assembly instructions whatsoever. From the name, I thought it might be some kind of pudding made from cottage cheese, but the recipe did not call for cottage cheese and this “pudding” actually turned out to be a sheet cake, made in a 9″ x 9″ pan, with sweet sauce, made separately, and meant to be poured over the top. Instead of combining the two together at the end, I realized that I could use grandma’s  recipe to create a version of an upside-down cake made in my cast iron skillet. And, I figured I’d go ahead and make it with persimmons, because I haven’t made anything with persimmons this year and usually they are the fruit that makes my winter go ’round. I’m so glad I did! I’ve never made an upside-down cake before, but it was really quite easy (minus the flipping part) and actually, really delicious. I imagined that I was going to pull some dense cake out of the oven, all gummed up with caramel. Instead, the cake was super soft, not too sweet, and accented with pretty drizzles of persimmon-infused caramel sauce.

I think you could use almost any soft fruit for this recipe, like apples or plums. Or, I suppose you could forgo fruit all together and just make a caramel cake. That’s your prerogative.

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Persimmon Upside-Down Cake
Very slightly adapted from Grandma Dini’s Cottage Pudding recipe.

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp, flour
2-3 persimmons, sliced 1/8-1/4-inch thick

Persimmon Caramel Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice 2-3 persimmons, horizontally, very thin. Just enough slices to cover the bottom of a 10″ cast iron skillet. Hold on to any extra pieces of persimmon that do not fit in the pan. You should have about 1/2 a persimmon left. Chop into small pieces.

In a small sauce pan, combine the leftover persimmon pieces and 1/2 of the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Some of the water will evaporate, which is fine.

Turn the heat down to low. Add brown sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, salt, and additional water to the sauce pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often, though not constantly, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. At this time, you can remove any larger pieces of the persimmon, leaving the smaller bits in the caramel. Set aside to cool slightly. You should have between 3/4 of a cup and 1 cup of caramel sauce.

For the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla extract, and beat until just mixed. Add in the flour mixture in about 4 batches. Mix until just combined with each addition of the dry ingredients. (This batter will be quite thick, which is perfect.)

Grease the sides of your cast iron skillet with butter to ensure a smooth removal of the cake. (You only need to butter the sides of your skillet; the buttery caramel will take care of the bottom of the skillet.)

Add half of the caramel mixture to the bottom of the skillet. Next, add the thinly sliced persimmon to the bottom of the pan until it is mostly covered. Add the remaining caramel over the top of the sliced persimmon.

Next, add the cake batter over the top of the persimmons and caramel. Do your best to get the batter to the edges of the skillet, as evenly as possible. If you have a spots where caramel is poking through on the edges, that’s fine.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes, by inserting a toothpick all the way through to the caramel. When it comes out clean, it’s done.

Quickly cover the skillet with heat-safe dish, invert the dishes together allowing the cake to slide out of the skillet and on to the serving dish.

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Grandma Dini’s Cream Puffs

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Happy New Year! Gosh, it’s 2017, for real. I’m so ready. Aside from that catastrophe that happened in early November, 2016 was not as cataclysmic for me as it was for everyone else. In fact, for us 2016 was basically uneventful, and even a little monotonous. Uneventful and monotonous are not really that fulfilling, so we’re hoping to make big moves in 2017. We’ll see. Also, we will see if my theory that years ending in even numbers are generally lame and odd numbered years are when magic happens. Bring it, 2017!

Aside from being the second day of a new year, today is National Cream Puff Day! In honor of a day that can’t possibly mean much of anything, I’m making a recipe that is actually quite meaningful to me. My mom has recently been sending me handwritten recipes from my grandma Edna’s recipe notebook. Mom refuses to scan the recipes, and instead texts me photos of the notebook she took with her phone, which is somehow equally annoying and very, very cute. It’s been great seeing these old notebook pages again, covered in stains from use and written in my grandma’s beautiful, cursive handwriting.

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This is grandma Edna–or to me, forever and always, Grandma Dini. For the longest time, I called her Grandma Dini and didn’t give it two thoughts. She responded to it. I was sure it was her name, until I learned otherwise. But neither my brother nor any of my cousins called her that and I never knew why. Later in life I asked my mom where that name had come from. She told me that when she and my dad used to tell me that we’re “going to grandma’s house,” I would always ask, “Which grandma?” Grandma Edna had a tiny, yappy dog, a miniature pinscher, named Houdini. So their answer to me was, “Grandma with Houdini.” Grandma Dini was born.

She passed away when I was twelve, so I didn’t know her as long as I would have liked, but Grandma Dini was a real cool lady. She played the clarinet, she introduced me to one of my favorite movies, Coalminer’s Daughter (when I was entirely too young to be watching such a film), and when she was younger, she and her sister, Florence, competed in local singing/yodeling contests, and were offered a chance to compete at a larger competition. Unfortunately, their dad said, “Absolutely no way,” and instead of becoming a star, grandma was married and having babies by the time she was 17. Not that she was necessarily unhappy with that path, and it certainly wasn’t an uncommon one where she grew up in rural, Central Indiana, but I can’t help but wonder what might have become of her if she had become a famous, touring yodeler.

Perhaps most important to me, Grandma Dini was our family’s genealogist. When she passed away, I unofficially inherited the green notebook in which she kept track of our family history, and I have been researching family histories, my own and others’, ever since. And now my job is to help people learn about their family history! Profound effect, indeed.

A month or two back, my mom asked me what my favorite dessert was that she used to make me. Without a doubt, cream puffs. Light and fluffy, filled with pudding, dusted with powdered sugar, what’s not to love? The cream puffs that my mom used to make were from my grandma’s recipe notebook, and now I’m sharing them with you today.

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Grandma Dini’s Cream Puffs
Makes approximately 12 3-inch cream puffs

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degree and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, combine water and butter and bring to a boil.

Add the flour and salt and stir until the mixture begins to combine and form a ball.

Add one egg at a time, stirring to combine. The mixture will slowly come together and, when ready, should be stiff enough to hold the spoon vertical.

Drop 1/4 cup spoonfuls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. (I used a pastry bag to pipe them onto the cookie sheet. This step is completely unnecessary, but it makes the puffs slightly more uniform, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they’re just light brown.

Once the puffs have cooled, cut the tops off, fill with pudding/cream, and dust with powdered sugar.

Tip for cream filling: I used this pastry cream recipe from The Kitchn. After making the cream and removing it from heat, I mixed in 1 tsp of espresso powder and 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips until melted and smooth.

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Cream puffs are a super simple treat and a definite crowd-pleaser, particularly if that crowd is me. Make a batch to kick off the new year! I’ll be right over.