Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Proof of the Pudding

Bakewell Pudding aboard Queen Elizabeth

Several years ago I posted a blog about how I discovered the Burgess side of my family originated from Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. On my recent cruise on the Queen Elizabeth I met some women from that area who asked if I knew about Bakewell pudding. (There's also Bakewell tart, a bit different dish.) 

Coincidentally, a few nights later we were served this dish in the Brittania dining room. I loved the almonds and the creamy sauce. I hope to visit the Bakewell Bakery some day, where Bakewell pudding and tart are featured. I found their shop online, and learned that the eponymous pudding has been made in that hamlet since the 1800. My ancestors must have sampled some, and now, so have I.

Thinking about pudding, I remembered that my Grandma Gertie, who married Joe Burgess, knew how to make pudding herself, even though it wasn't Bakewell, and didn't involve almonds. Here's what I know about Grandma's pudding, and how I tricked my late husband, who claimed an aversion to all things pudding:

 The Proof of the Pudding

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Miguel Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote. I believe that to be absolutely true, literally, not just figuratively!

“I don’t eat pudding in any way, shape or form,” my husband Ken had warned me when he spotted the package of banana pudding mix I’d set on the kitchen counter.

“I thought I’d mash up these two elderly bananas and stir them into the mix. I know you like banana cream pie.”

“Make some banana bread instead. I don’t do pudding.”

Yes, Ken had definite do’s and don’ts about what he’d eat. So now I added pudding to the mental list that already included lima beans, candied sweet potatoes and deviled eggs. When we first got married I’d been amusedly puzzled that he’d refused to sample some of the down home dishes Grandma Gertie had taught me to cook and that I dearly loved.

How could he be so fussy? After all, here was a fellow who bragged he’d savored snails in garlic sauce purchased from a street vendor a block from the Eiffel Tower, and lamented that Wal-Mart didn’t carry quark, a kind of yogurt cheese he’d buy when he’d lived in Germany.

But now, a few years into our late-in-life marriage, I began to be a bit troubled. I’d found myself more than once forced to toss out a dish that simply didn’t please his palate. Ken knew how much I hated to throw any food away. My years in the Peace Corps had taught me “waste not, want not” when it came to edibles. Why, one spring as we weeded the front yard, I’d even mentioned I wished I could remember how Grandma had prepared what she called “a mess o’ greens.”

“I know she wilted the dandelion leaves in bacon grease, and added onion and garlic,” I began, dreamily recalling the delicious aroma. “I think she added a dash of vinegar. Or maybe it was pepper sauce.”

“It would be a mess, all right,” Ken had retorted, yanking the weeds from my hand and tossing them into the wheelbarrow.

I usually went along with his preferences, but when it came to bread, I drew the line. I believed that letting bread grow stale or moldy amounted to blasphemy. Bread, I’d learned from Grandma, was the staff of life. Every crumb needed to be consumed.

So when ours started to stale I’d make croutons to sprinkle on French onion soup, crumbs to pad out meat loaf, or cubes to stir into stewed tomatoes. Then finally one day I noticed that some of the apples from our trees that I’d stored in our pantry last autumn had begun to look a bit dehydrated. We also had half a loaf of more-than-a-day-old French bread.

I thumbed through my recipe box and found Grandma’s recipe for apple bread pudding.  Aha! I told myself, ready to delve into a little deception. I’d have to call it something else. Maybe I’d claim it was Brown Betty. Grandma had made that, too, but it didn’t contain milk and eggs. Ken wouldn’t know the difference.

I headed for the kitchen to whip up dessert.

Gertie’s Apple Bread Pudding

4 cups                                      soft bread cubes
¼ cup                                      raisins
¼ cup                                      chopped walnuts
2 cups                                      peeled and sliced apples
1 cup                                       brown sugar
1 ¾ cups                                  milk
½ cup                                      butter
1 teaspoon                               ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon                              ground nutmeg          
½ teaspoon                              vanilla extract


In a large bowl, combine bread, raisins, walnuts and apples.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, milk, and cup butter.  Cook and stir until butter is melted.  Pour over bread mixture in bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and eggs. Pour bread mixture into prepared dish, and pour egg mixture over bread.  Bake in the preheated oven to 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until center is set and apples are tender.

Sometimes Grandma served this with a sauce, either vanilla or caramel, but since Ken scrunched up his face at syrupy sauces, I’d simply top it with whipped cream, which he loved.

“Ready for dessert?  I baked something this afternoon that I think you’ll love.”

Ken favored me with his lopsided smile. “What’s it called?”

I averted my face as I scooped out a couple of servings into custard cups. I had a hard time telling even a little white lie without turning crimson. I squirted a little whipped cream as I thought about how to answer.

“Oh, it’s just something Grandma used to bake,” I said, carefully evading the question. “It’s kind of an old fashioned dish, sort of like a Brown Betty with apples.”

Ken ate every bite. “It’s paradisiacal,” he said. “I’ll take a second helping. What all goes into it?”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to fib outright, so I handed him Grandma’s recipe card.

“Bread pudding?” Ken sputtered. “I thought you said it was Brown Betty.”

Now it was my turn to smile.

“Hmmm. I must have pulled out the wrong recipe. Still want seconds? You said you didn’t do puddings in any way, shape or form.” I stifled a giggle, as Ken’s frown morphed into a grin.

“Now I can’t say that anymore,” my amiable husband replied as he handed me his dish.

Grandma always said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. And I had been convinced Ken would love her old-fashioned dish if only I could coax him to taste it. Grandma also taught me that results are what count…it’s not how you start but how you finish. I’d started with good intentions, albeit a little loving trickery, and ended with a satisfied spouse.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I’ve heard. Wait…did Miguel Cervantes say that? No…I think it was Grandma Gertie.


Queen Elizabeth buffet food sculptures

Here's the link to the earlier blog about discovering my Bakewell background:


  1. My first husband was a picky eater. This one will eat anything that isn't locked up. Fun post.

  2. Yum! I love bread pudding! It's one of my hand-me-down dishes from my grandma and my mom. I've never baked it with apples though. I'm going to have to try that!

  3. I squirted a little whipped cream as I thought about how to answer.