As someone who continues to struggle with food and the concept of eating, I find myself often thinking about what food means. Depending on your socialization, it can mean a world of different things. To many, it is comfort; it’s something to be enjoyed and devoured. To others, it is purgatory; it is where your deepest fears are hidden. As a woman, a Puerto Rican, a daughter, a sister, and a millenial riddled by the “ideal body image,” my relationship with food is complicated, to say the least. Whenever I feel an immense amount of stress about what I’m eating, or more importantly, what I’m not eating, I think about my grandmother.
I think about the way she created magic that somehow managed to wrap people she barely knew in a blanket of serenity. Without question, food was the answer. It could heal any headache or heartache. It was for when you were feeling low as much as it was to celebrate you at your best. When she passed away, members from all corners of my family reminisced the meals she cooked that made them feel special. From her immediate to people she came across at festivals in passing, it seemed like the love she put into her food touched all corners of the Bronx and beyond. I am grateful that my family intends to keep this relationship with food alive. As a Puerto Rican family, food is more than just our culture. It is our home, our comfort, and most importantly, our memory of those we have lost.
My personal favorite is bread pudding. There’s something about sweet bread in the form of a dessert that my sister and I absolutely cannot resist! It’s always been my favorite part of the holiday season. (Sometimes, if i’m lucky, my mom will make a few pans just because she feels like it.) If you want to make some, here’s what you’ll need:
First, you will need to melt both sticks of butter in a pot. Once the butter is melted, add the eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, evaporated milk, baking powder and vanilla extract. Mix together. Using a knife (or, in the traditional way, your hands!), break the loaf of bread into small, equal pieces and let the pieces soak in the mixture for 5 minutes. Once the 5 minutes are up, you will find that the pieces of bread are very soggy. This is when you want to sprinkle in the raisins. This part is the most customizable, as not everyone is a crazy raisin-lover like I am—so though I would advise you to use the whole box (!!) of raisins for optimal bread-pudding flavor, you don’t necessarily have to. But here is where the messy fun begins! Using your hands, mix and grind the bread until it has completely dissolved into the mixture.
Now it’s time to transfer the mixture into the pans. Begin by greasing the pans to avoid the bread pudding getting stuck. It is recommended that you use butter as to not affect the flavor of the bread pudding. Pour the bread mixture into the pan and cook in an oven preheated to 350° for 20-25 minutes. Here is the final trick: after you’ve let the bread pudding sit in the oven for the allotted time, it is imperative that you let it cool and refrigerate for at least 4 hours! Bread pudding is meant to be served solid and cold! Soupy bread pudding is not my grandmother's bread pudding.
My grandmother knew that everyone loved bread pudding (and for those who didn’t, there was always lots of flan!). My grandmother knew how to make you feel special by making your favorite meal to celebrate whatever was going on, even if what you were celebrating was just a regular Tuesday. My mother now carries on this tradition. When my birthday (or any day that may be particularly special to me) rolls around, my mother asks me what I would like to eat. If I’m having a particularly bad day, or a day when I’m not eating well, she’ll come over with a snack that she knows I love for me to eat while I work or while we talk. In fact, most of my fondest memories include talking and laughing over meals; most of my favorite meals became my favorite because they connect me to my family, my culture, and my grandmother.