When is a recipe more than just a recipe?
Back when I first started blogging in 2007, one of the first recipes I shared was for Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding. It’s so sinfully delicious, people are often surprised at how easy it is to make.
This longstanding Island favorite is perfect for neighborhood potlucks, bake sales, and school and church gatherings. It’s my go-to recipe for last minute guests, always fits the bill for relaxing Sunday brunches, and is just about as comforting as comfort food can get.
I’ve fed sweet bread pudding to painters, carpenters, and landscapers. To dinner guests I wanted to impress. To new neighbors and physical therapists. I even converted a fourth grade class of die-hard brownie and chocolate chip cookie lovers. One taste, and their stories magically brimmed with sensory detail.
But of all the happy eaters I’ve encountered, Roberta is my favorite.
While making yet another batch of sweet bread pudding over the Memorial Day Weekend, I thought of Roberta as I usually do. I think her story bears repeating, especially for those of you who’ve just recently joined us.
* * *
♥ MORE THAN JUST A RECIPE ♥
Roberta was the first adult I ever tutored for the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. When I first met her, she carried a huge burden of shame because she couldn’t read. She knew her alphabet and a few simple words. She could balance her checking account. But she couldn’t read street signs or the monthly bulletins posted at the school where she worked as a custodian.
As a child, she loved school. But her father took her out so she could help with farm work at home. Ever since then, Roberta equated not being able to read with IQ. She went through life thinking she was dumb. She was constantly trying to hide her illiteracy. When cleaning classrooms at the end of the day, she’d take home workbooks or textbooks teachers had thrown in the trash. Anything that might teach her to read better.
She told me that every day she prayed to God for help. She was so tired of feeling invisible, inferior, and deathly afraid that someday someone would discover her secret and destroy her last shred of self esteem. She mustered up the courage to attend night school, but the more advanced students intimidated her. Her very wise teacher, however, suggested she might do better one-on-one with a tutor.
Roberta and I met twice a week after school for five years. Besides the workbook lessons, we read picture books, easy readers and large print romance novels. She loved the youth biographies of Helen Keller and Jackie Robinson. Anything that needed deciphering, we worked on together — applications, insurance forms, land ownership documents, legal papers related to her husband’s death.
She liked gardening, so we read seed catalogs. We perused grocery ads and pretended she needed to find an apartment in the classifieds. One by one, we tried to break down anything that used to stand in her way — maps, brochures, business cards, restaurant menus, a letter from a beloved cousin.
We were humbled and grateful for our time together. Roberta was finally getting a small portion of what she had been entitled to all along, and I, who had always taken my ability to read for granted, saw the world open up to Roberta in ways I’d never imagined. Our first Christmas together, I had the honor and privilege of giving Roberta her first picture book — the first real book she had ever owned, the first book I had ever published.
We worked on writing, too. Before I met Roberta, she had never written a personal letter or shopping list. She said it was a huge burden having to memorize everything — doctors’ orders for when and how to take prescriptions, directions to a new place, each small impression or thought she felt worth keeping. I was surprised to learn Roberta also felt inadequate because she couldn’t record her favorite recipes to pass on to her daughter, and that she had never actually followed a written recipe.
This is where Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding comes in. Roberta loved hearing about my growing up in Hawai’i, and was especially interested in the food. I could have told her the recipe, and with her finely-tuned memory, she could have easily remembered it. But she wanted to experience yet another form of reading: a list of ingredients followed by a step-by-step process that would result in something tangible she could share with others. So we read the recipe together, and she purchased her first set of measuring spoons and cups.
Next time we met, she was all smiles. Everyone loved her bread pudding. Everyone asked for the recipe. But she wouldn’t share it. For once, she had something everybody else wanted: a good secret. Not only was she a 50-something-year-old woman who could read, now she could outbake the socks off her friends.
So now I’m sharing the recipe with you. As you skim the directions, think about Roberta and how these simple words empowered her. As with all good bakers, she added a few of her own ingredients: a newfound sense of pride and a genuine love, rather than a fear, of reading.
* * *
HAWAIIAN SWEET BREAD PUDDING
1 loaf King’s Sweet Bread (no substitute)
1/2 to 1/3 cup raisins
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 extra large eggs
walnuts, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
1. Grease or butter a 9″×13″ glass baking dish.
2. Break bread into small pieces and lay in the dish.
3. Sprinkle raisins over bread.
4. Melt butter over medium heat, then stir in sugar and milk.
5. Remove from heat and add vanilla and beaten eggs.
6. Pour whole mixture evenly over bread pieces, making sure to moisten all.
7. Sprinkle cinnamon on top; add broken walnut pieces if desired.
8. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
9. Cool for a few minutes, then slice and enjoy.
As people in Hawai’i say, it’s real ono!
Optional: After baking, drizzle on icing of confectioner’s sugar mixed with a little milk.
Note: King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread is widely available in major supermarket chains across the country. If you don’t see it in your bread aisle, try the bakery section!
* * *
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Yum!
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.