I keep a box of column ideas in the closet. I have filing cabinets, but I like to paw through stacks of stuff, like a dog looking for a saved bone. Organization has never been one of my long suits, a weakness that I rather enjoy. There is pleasure when you find the hidden treasure.
A couple of old ideas that were brought to the top of the box this morning were overshadowed by tomato pudding.
Claimed to be a Toledo original, the overly sweet casserole that defies all millennium dietary rules holds steady to longtime popularity.
The original name is Tally Ho Tomato Pudding, named for a tearoom in downtown Toledo that apparently introduced it. For many years it was a hallmark at the Columbian House in Waterville.
Gooey with butter, sweet with brown sugar, loaded with bread cubes, the pudding is a mystery to diners who face it for the first time.
Personal renewed allegiance to the Toledo native rang like a bell Monday when it was served to 43 people at my home. It received not only raves but also requests for second helpings. Toledoan Jerrie Jerome is familiar with the pudding and makes it. Otherwise, the dark red mass in the commercial 12-by-20-by-4-inch deep pan, borrowed from Chef Robert Rosencranz of Zenobia Shrine, was greeted with guarded acceptance.
When the large pan of pudding was gone, a smaller second pan was passed and enough people took second helpings that I admit I was somewhat disappointed. I anticipated leftovers to nuke in the microwave. Now, until the urge to make a new batch hits, I must rely on the memory of the pleasure the old recipe brought to so many. Sure, it's stressful work to prepare food for that many people, but seeing them eat with gusto and ask for the recipe relieves the headache as quickly as an aspirin.
The name that doesn't fit the dish. Pudding is generally considered a sweet ending to a meal. Tomato pudding, like English Yorkshire Pudding, is an exception. It serves as a side dish in a menu. The bread cubes give it a lumpy consistency, unlike a good rich dessert pudding.
Along with the surprise taste appeal and Toledo history, the pudding has another advantage: There are only five ingredients, fitting today's search for recipe brevity.
The finished product is less than attractive. Add brown sugar to tomato puree and bake it for an hour and what do you get? Dark red mud. In fact the baked pudding was so ugly I forked through it to bring some of the bread cubes to the top to add to the appearance. How many bread cubes? Twenty-four cups. How many cans of puree? I lost count.
Cooking often brings a lesson no matter how many years you have been doing it. In the case of the tomato pudding I learned that the cheap white bread, a "buy one loaf, get one free" supermarket deal, was not a good value. After four days it still didn't dry out sufficiently and I question that the high humidity was to blame.
I also learned not to use a third rack in an oven that is equipped with two. I borrowed a rack so that everything could be baked in my oven on three racks, but the night before, I was told that the stove element wouldn't know what to do with so many racks. At the last minute the pudding was taken to a neighbor to be baked in her oven. Fortunately there was just enough pudding left to take to her so that she could taste the strange looking stuff that her oven baked perfectly.