Vanilla and cinnamon mixed with the aroma of baking bread filled the air and propelled me through time into the memories of my childhood. Scientist tell us there are certain sounds, smells, and tastes that act as a trigger upon our memories, taking us home or to a favorite place. Jergen’s cherry almond lotion reminds me of Maw-maw Rosie, a pear tree or overalls bring memories of my Pawpaw Ed Doc, while beautiful china or a well set table reminds me of my Nunu Myrtle, a good story of my Pawpaw Robert, and homemade jelly of my great grandmother, Maw White.
Some would have said we were poor. I certainly didn’t know it. I thought we were the wealthiest people I knew. I never lacked for pretty clothes, great shoes, or winter jackets. And we always had more than enough food. Often, our table was covered from one end to the other. It was not odd to me that we ate rabbit, squirrel, and venison. I thought it was a treat. I never knew that once or twice people left groceries at our back door. It wasn’t my business. Neither Mama nor Daddy ever told me until I was an adult with children of my own. I was too busy with my head up in the clouds, my nose in a book, and my heart set on my dreams, to notice anything beyond the world I had created.
For me, childhood was a lovely home filled with food and family. If family was together, well then, there was food. Homemade biscuits, fried chicken, smothered rabbit stew, squirrel dmplins’, something my mama called ‘mammy flappers’, and gumbo followed by bread pudding. We ate other stuff too-the stuff everybody else eats-Pizza and hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. But I imagine our Louisiana Christmases were a bit different than those celebrated across the rest of the nation.
Starting early in the morning we could smell the holy trinity of vegetables (onion, celery, Bell Pepper-otherwise known as Mirepoix) being sautéed and the roux being browned to black (but never burned) in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I recall often being given a wooden spoon with instructions to stir the roux. This was an important task, roux being a crucial ingredient for the gumbo. “Stir the roux” meant “don’t stop and don’t take your eye off of it.”
I would stir until my arms ached! But the reward was a fabulous Gumbo often filled with crab, shrimp, and oysters. The rest of the year we may have chicken and sausage Gumbo, but Christmas Gumbo teemed with the bounty of the sea!
While we waited, we would of course become hungry; so, led by my Aunt Robbie, we would make Hot Potato Salad Sandwich roll-overs. That’s a single piece of white bread filled with hot potato salad. I never said anything about this day was healthy.
For dessert: Bread Pudding-a decadent traditional classic was on the menu! I could have eaten it every day! I would casually watch Mama prepare her signature dessert, but never really absorbed the recipe. I tried making it as an adult. It never tasted like Mama’s. Then that Christmas day came when the secret was revealed!
We were visiting my youngest sister who was expecting her first child at any moment. The plans were, as always, Gumbo, Potato Salad, and Bread Pudding for Christmas Dinner. While my parents, my husband and I celebrated Santa with my two young boys at a guest cottage, Raenette, my sister, called my grandparents from her home to wish them a Merry Christmas. Nunu asked how she was doing. She mentioned to Nunu that she was not doing well this morning and was having some pain. After some discussion Nunu advised, “Get yourself to the hospital NOW! You are in labor!”My brother-in-law called and my parents headed to the hospital with instructions from Mama to make the Gumbo, potato salad, and bread pudding. My other brother-in-law oversaw the Gumbo, my sister Melly had the potato salad, and I got the bread pudding. That meant I was given THE RECIPE!!
By the end of the day we had a fabulous Christmas dinner and, after an emergency C-section, a precious new miracle added to the family. That precious baby is now a precocious and stylish high school Le Cross player.
I don’t think any of us are what economists would call rich. But we are some of the wealthiest people I know. I often still have my head in the clouds and my nose in a book, but family remains as important as ever. Yes, we are loud Louisianians and Texans. We’ve even been called ‘The Loud Family’. We yell, talk over one another, laugh together, cry together, and try to take one another down when we play games. There is no just letting another person win in this family.
But we always win when we are together. We work together to get things done and recognize the gifting and talents of each one. We are all as different as we are alike.
When it comes to food, I recognize I am not the best cook. But I can make a mean bread pudding thanks to Mama’s recipe. So, in the spirit of sharing, here it is: THE RECIPE!
Mama Jettie’s Bread Pudding
- French Bread Loaf (stale)
- 1 lb sugar
- 8 eggs
- Heavy whipping cream
- Cinnamon to taste Tear or cut the bread into bite size pieces.
Tear or cut bread into bite size pieces. I like to tear it. It gives it a more rustic look. Allow to sit a day or two until crusty or toast it in the oven if you don’t have the patience for this step.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the remaining ingredients.
Butter a 9×12 baking dish. Spread out the bread in the dish. You can add apples, pecans or raisins if you want to here.
Cover with the wet mixture. Let it soak for a bit. Add more mixture if needed. You don’t want it to be mushy, but you don’t want it dry.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes. It should rise during the bake.
Serve with Whiskey sauce, Rum sauce, or a Praline Sauce. Your choice. I like a good whiskey sauce!