Tag Archives: London Bread

Figs. Finality. Fall.

Summer 2018 went out on a hot note, with September temperatures lingering in the ‘90s and not a lot of rain recently in my parts of the South – despite the hurricane devastation in the Carolinas. The heat does not bother me; the last days of summer are the sweetest because it’s almost gone. I always lament the things I didn’t do to take advantage of the longer summer days.

This year, I didn’t sit in my back yard much and that’s a loss.

I measure the progress of the warmest months by the fruit that comes and goes. Strawberries appear in April and are disappearing by the time the first Chilton County peaches arrive around Mother’s Day. Blueberries and blackberries come soon after, with local watermelons and cantaloupes appearing near Independence Day.

Figs come around a little later. The fig tree yield has been iffy in recent years. Even though I heard a grocery clerk bragging to a neighbor about the bounty on his family’s fig tree, I didn’t see a lot of fig action at the various farmers’ markets. 


I have often written about the community that comes together at the special dinners at the Alabama Chanin Factory in Florence. It has enabled me to meet people I might have never known.

In the years that I have been attending the benefit dinners in Florence, two gentlemen were among the most regular attendees. We did not actually meet them until we were seated at a table together earlier this year. They are Milton and David, a father and son from Corinth, Mississippi, who regularly make the trip to Alabama Chanin’s factory for the singular dinner series that happens in that place.

On that first meeting, Milton, the father, entertained us with stories of the historical research he and his late wife, Stephanie, have done in and around Corinth, his hometown. He also mentioned, in passing, the fig trees on their property – collected over the years of their marriage and annually producing a nice harvest. My friend, Anne, was particularly interested in acquiring a fig tree for her house and Milton shared a recommended source, www.ediblelandscaping.com.

At the end of the most recent Florence dinner in August, Milton handed me a small jar labeled “Stephanie Sandy’s Figs.” Inside were “Milton’s North Carolina Style Whole Fig Honey-Lemon Amaretto Preserves.” I saved the jar for the last days of summer and ate the delectable fig preserves with some of my favorite local Humble Heart goat cheese and a piece of Mrs. London’s bread, another favorite from local farmers’ markets. The combination was delicious; it tasted exactly like the last days of summer should.


In the last week of summer, when I got home from work on a late afternoon, a deer was calmly grazing across the railroad tracks behind my house. I got out of the car and watched him. It’s rare to see a deer out in the open in the hottest part of a hot day. I normally only spot them behind my house at night. This daytime deer stopped grazing and looked back at me for a moment. Then, he slowly disappeared into the cool of the trees. It has been so dry here for the past few weeks, I suspect he had gotten bold in search of food and water.

On the morning of the last full day of summer, I woke before sunrise to the sound of rain against the windowpanes. By the time I got up and looked out the window, it had stopped. As I packed my car, I noticed single drops of water hanging on each of the berries of a backyard shrub. They seemed to be a token of a summer passing away and a promise of new seasons to come.

That evening, on the last full day of summer in Birmingham, it was hot and dry with clouds worthy of a biblical Renaissance landscape floating overhead. The neighborhood ice cream shop in Bluff Park atop Shades Mountain was packed to overflowing with people gathered in the parking lot and on benches outside the little shop. Suddenly, from one of the overlooks along Shades Crest Road, the sky turned pink and gold and the setting sun shone bright orange across Oxmoor Valley. I had left my camera at the house, but stopped to savor the display.

The next day, just after the Alabama game, I drove back up the mountain with camera in tow to see if I might catch a repeat of the previous day’s stunner. But fall had arrived; the sky was grey and overcast and the setting sun was a dingy circle partly visible through ominous clouds. On the other side of the mountain, an almost full moon peeked through more clouds in a still and colorless dusk. 

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Food Memory: Bread Pudding

I have never met two bread puddings that are exactly alike and I rarely meet one that I don’t like. When I eat at a new place and bread pudding is listed on the menu, I almost always have to try it and see what version this particular kitchen has deemed acceptable.

Some version of bread pudding shows up on the menu of many southern dining establishments and dining rooms; some are dense and cake-like and others are more loose and cobbler-like. The Bright Star in Bessemer, near Birmingham, serves a tasty bread pudding with a rich bourbon sauce. The signature dessert at the Wash House in Point Clear on Mobile Bay is a Key Lime bread pudding that doesn’t sound promising but is actually quite good. It is also huge and filling and every time I’ve ordered it I have had to request a go box. Fat Girls, a tiny little barbecue joint on Highway 82 in Billingsley, Alabama, had a terrific bread pudding but it shut its doors a few years ago.

There seem to be as many versions of bread puddings in New Orleans as there are places to eat.

I don’t recall either of my grandmothers ever making a bread pudding so I have no family recipes to honor.

But recently I had some of Mrs. London’s bread from her family kitchen over in Madison sitting around and some Chilton County peaches that were getting pretty ripe and I decided that I needed to do something about it.  Scoot’s organic eggs from the farmer’s market were in the refrigerator and I decided to see what it was like to make my own bread pudding.

I do pretty well in the kitchen but whenever I make something I’ve never made before I need to do some research before I get started. I pulled down the cookbooks and culled the bread pudding recipes and then set to work.

I followed the basics based on what I read and then set about making my own version. I must say that this is such an easy dessert to make that I’m not sure why I never thought to make it sooner; I guess I was just satisfied to order it at restaurants.

The final result bears repeating, I think, and I’ll share it for whenever the urge might hit. I was frankly thrown a little off-guard with how basic and simple it was to make a pretty good bread pudding. I guess since I never thought to make it, I never thought about the process.

Here’s what I did; I messed with it a bit and, even though raisins are pretty traditional for bread puddings, I wanted to do peaches in mine. This is a very giving recipe and anybody cooking a bread pudding should tweak it with whatever their tastes suggest.

Peach Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

For the bread pudding:

1 cup milk

1 cup Half and Half

¼ cup unsalted butter

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, beaten

6 cups dry bread cubes

1 cup sliced peaches

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat milk, Half and Half, and butter over medium heat until butter is melted and milk is hot.
  3. Whisk sugar, cinnamon, salt, and eggs together.
  4. Stir in bread and peaches.
  5. Stir in milk, ½ and ½, and butter mixture.
  6. Pour it all into a 2-quart baking dish.
  7. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

For the bourbon sauce:

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons Half and Half

4 tablespoons bourbon (non-alcoholic vanilla extract may be substituted for the bourbon)

  1. In heavy sauce pan, stir and heat all sauce ingredients to boiling over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer, stirring frequently.
  2. When ready to serve, spoon sauce over the warm bread pudding.

Tomato Sandwich

DSCN0367 There are many things to love about sultry summer weather and one of them is the opportunity to check out the farmers markets that spring up from spring to fall. When I go to a farmer’s market, I don’t go to linger and socialize; I go to do my business and move on. My typical routine is to make the rounds of all the stalls – making a mental note of what looks good this week – and then to make one more pass to make my purchases and leave. My typical trip to a farmers market takes about fifteen minutes.

That is not to say that I am completely antisocial at the market. There are purveyors that I have seen for years now and have come to know and we always catch up with each other. But there are usually other customers to be served and I don’t like to take up too much of their time so we speak, quickly share any news, and promise to see each other next week.

Today at a local market there were beginning to be tomatoes. By midsummer the tomatoes will be abundant but now, in late spring, good local tomatoes are just beginning to appear. Today it was clearly time to make the first tomato sandwiches of the season.

I have always known tomato sandwiches but I find that I still occasionally get a puzzled look when I mention them to certain people. For those of us who have known them from childhood, there is no standard way to build a tomato sandwich and everybody has evolved a preferred technique over time. My tomato sandwiches are constantly changing based on my tastes and what is available.

The essential ingredients for a tomato sandwich are a tomato, bread, and mayonnaise. The rest is up to taste and imagination. I always challenge myself to use only the freshest available local ingredients.

I usually buy larger tomatoes and I look for them to be less ripe so they will last. Today, however, a Cullman County farm was displaying small to medium size ripe red tomatoes that I knew were destined to go home with me and to be the star of my first tomato sandwich of the season.

I grabbed a loaf of Mrs. London’s bread that was made this morning. It is a fluffy soft bread that I have been buying for years now. Mrs. London’s bread is about the best I’ve ever tasted. There were sweet red spring onions at another stand and I always buy a container of Humble Heart Farms goat cheese; my flavor of choice this week was the Mediterranean blend.

DSCN0361I was ready to go home and make a late afternoon lunch of local ingredients, starring the tomato.

As I walked into my back yard, I plucked some basil off the plants growing near the back gate, went into the house, and began to assemble the ingredients for a sandwich.

Mrs. London’s bread needs a bit of toasting to take on the load of a soggy tomato sandwich so I started the oven, cut off two generous slices of bread, and toasted it on both sides.

The tomatoes were sliced, the basil leaves were washed and picked, and the red onion was sliced into slivers. When the bread was toasted, I generously slathered mayonnaise (Blue Plate or Duke’s work just fine) and sprinkled some goat cheese on top of the mayonnaise.  Basil leaves were layered onto the mayonnaise and goat cheese. A drop of lemon was squeezed over the basil.

Next the onion was spread over the basil. Then slices of tomato were generously layered, completely covering one of the slices of bread, with salt and pepper added at the end.

After I pressed the two slices of bread and ingredients together, I drizzled olive oil over the top slice and let the sandwich sit for a few minutes so the ingredients could meld. I ate it with some fresh strawberries from the farmers market and a big glass of iced tea.

The first day of summer is still a couple of weeks away, but the first tomato sandwich of the season tastes like summer to me. And, except for the mayonnaise and olive oil, everything I ate came from farms within twenty-five miles of my basil in the back yard.

Eat fresh and local this summer. DSCN0354