I am a bit unfortunate in not having inherited an old and battered book with family recipes from my respective grandmothers (well, one's still around, but I am not sure she has such a book even though she could certainly pass on a wealth of knowledge, especially in the pastry department) - I would love nothing more than leaf through endless pages spotted with grease stains and cocoa powder, picking up the odd sugar crystal or almond sliver on the way... certain, I would have difficulty deciphering most of it, not that my Grans have bad handwriting (like I do when I jot down recipes into my big books, whisking egg white with one hand and keeping an eye on the melting chocolate at the same time), but they were still writing in "Kurrent" (often mistakenly called Korent in Austria), an old German handwriting style that has been replaced by the modern fonts we use now way before my parents entered primary school. I couldn't for the life of me read most of it, but if I did possess such a book, I would make the effort and learn it, so I could benefit from all the recipes handed down through generations.
The closest I come to a family recipe book are scraps of paper my Mum tends to bring along when she visits (and the odd printed email as befits this period of transition we are now in where people send you things electronically, yet having it in your inbox is not much use if you are not in the possession of a) a reliable wireless network, b) a kitchen big enough to have space for a laptop amongst all your kitchen utensils and c) some sort of protection for your computer so the dough you'll invariably drop on it doesn't make all the keys stick together into one large space bar).
This is how it works: my Mum goes somewhere, say, to visit a friend or on holidays, she eats something she likes or something she thinks I would like, writes it down on the nearest piece of paper she can find (often these notes will just be dictated by the creator, so they are not even that reliable, given that my Mum is struggling with the speed at which instructions are shot at her and that the cook is probably busy doing other things and will forget a vital ingredient or two!) - so I have them on scraps of newspaper, the backsides of shopping lists, bits of cereal boxes which where waiting to go to the recycling, paper towels, napkins... then they travel to London, in a large notebook, if I'm lucky, or simply stuck into Mum's gigantic handbag in which she seems to carry her whole life (being a one-handbag-person just as myself). You get the picture. They're tiny bits, crinkled, stained, torn containing a recipe that is written half in stenography, half in really bad handwriting, and that is, more often than not, missing vital information. She isn't even leaving these behind for me to create my own scrapbook, but my hopes are high for one day inheriting hers... if I outlive her, that is! (Believe me, she's much younger than you think!)
This last recipe came to me from the US Virgin Islands, originally on what I believe was a tourism flyer of some sort. On her three-week vacation on St. Thomas, my Mum was lucky enough to stay with the owners of no less than three culinary institutions on the island, one being Pita-Express, a catering service that started out as a streetcorner operation in the aftermath of the hurricane in 1995, another Amalia Cafe, close to the beach and popular with people getting off the massive cruise ships docked in the harbour, and a recent addition, a fine dining venue due to open any time now. Despite the owners being one of Antiguan, the other of Austrian descent, the cuisine is decidedly Spanish, and apparently very good, so I am not sure how this dessert fits the bill... but Helga taught my Mum to make her take on the classic bread & butter pudding, a rather exotic version using bananas and blueberries - and a very delicious one indeed! Being so easy to make and prepared well in advance as well, I can see myself trying various flavour combinations for upcoming dinner parties: raspberry & white chocolate, chocolate & pear, apple & cinnamon... based on this basic recipe, I'm sure they'll all turn out delicious!
Banana & blueberry bread pudding*
150 g stale bread (baguette, toast or brioche work equally well)
120 g single cream
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
3 tbsp cognac
80 g caster sugar
1 ripe banana (mashed)
150 g blueberries
6 tbsp blanched almond slivers
Blueberry coulis (own addition)
200 g blueberries (can be frozen)
50 g demerara sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
The coulis can be prepared well in advance: cook all ingredients in a non-stick pot until the berries are very soft, then puree with a hand-held blender and pass through a fine-meshed sieve. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
Cut the bread into bite-sized chunks and soak in the cream for at least 30 minutes. Beat the vanilla sugar, caster sugar and egg until creamy. Add to the bread and combine with the remaining ingredients.
Fill into buttered ramekin dishes and top with a tbsp of almond slivers each. Place ramekins in a large, deep baking tray.
Pre-heat oven to 200C.
Bring enough water to the boil to fill the baking dish - the ramekins should be covered about halfway up.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes before turning the puddings out on a plate and serving them with the coulis.
* Original recipe kindly supplied by Amalia Cafe.