It was spring several weekends ago when I was down in Madison, Indiana, a river port city on the Ohio River, known for its large historic district. The city dates back to the early 1800s and for some reason escaped the architectural nightmare of the 1960s and 1970s that overtook many other cities resulting in beautiful Second Empire, Victorian and Federal style buildings being torn down and replaced by concrete eyesores.
And so I found myself eating dinner at an old button factory (making buttons from the fresh water mollusk shells found in the Ohio River was a major business back in the 19th century in Madison) which 45 years ago morphed into a restaurant with the somewhat unlikely name – this is Southern Indiana after all – Key West Shrimp House. Sure, it’s steps from the Ohio with wonderful views of the broad river with its day and night traffic, but still. And even more interesting, Key West Shrimp House was one of a small chain, the first one which opened in 1950 in Indianapolis and was rather a jazzy sort of place where men wore suits and hats and women wore heels and dresses to come and dine on shrimp cocktail, French Fried Frog Legs, Shrimp Scampi and Whiskey Pudding, the last a particular favorite.
Of all the Key West Shrimp House restaurants, only this one survives and is owned by the son of the original owners. The others were located in Bloomington, Franklin, Kokomo and Gas City. Back in the 1940s and 1950s there was a real trend for restaurants evoking the ambience of southern waters. I remember a restaurant my parents took me to as a kid called the Palm Grove. It had neon palm trees outside and pink leather banquettes inside and women came in wearing fur coats. Thinking back, it was rather odd as it was on an industrial street in Gary near the boundary separating that city and East Chicago – surely few more unglamorous places can be imagined.
More mainstream, Trader Vic’s was a big time Tiki place and probably the place where drinks with paper umbrellas in them became famous. Several Trader Vic’s still exist and they’re swanky kind of places. Key West Shrimp House, part of that ilk, with its warm inviting interior, is more family friendly than high class ritz. Many of its originally menu items remain including, besides the items mentioned above, the double baked potato, Grandma Pat’s Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie, hush puppies made with a mixture of cornmeal and yellow cake mix and a salad bar with such special items as pickled watermelon rinds which are rather sweet with a spice kick.
Over the years their offerings have been mythologized to a degree and I even happened upon a Website where someone had spent three years trying to replicate the whiskey pudding served there as it was remembered tasting on a prom date more than 60 years ago.
Makes 12 servings
Preheat oven to 325°F
For the Pudding:
1 cup raisins
1 cup dark rum (use the darkest blackstrap rum available to maximize molasses content)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half & half
1 pound French bread
2 cups natural sugar, avoid white refined sugar and use something like Sugar in the Raw for best results
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons vanilla extract, being sure to use real extract and double strength if possible
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the Sauce:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (use French or Irish butter if possible as it has a high butterfat content and so makes for a richer sauce)
1/2 cup golden brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup natural sugar
2 ounces bourbon whiskey
Sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
Place raisins in glass or small bowl, and pour in enough dark rum to cover. Let soak for at least one hour; if you have time, soak for three days and add more rum as it is absorbed by the raisins. As oven is preheating, generously butter a 13" x 9" baking dish. A 2" depth will do, but 4" is preferable. Cut French bread into approximate one-inch cubes, making sure to include the crust. Stale bread works as well as fresh for this recipe, if not better. Place bread in large bowl, then pour the milk and half and half over it; let soak five minutes.
While bread is soaking, whisk eggs with butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in medium bowl; pour over bread. Add the raisins and rum, then toss mixture to distribute.
Transfer bread mixture to prepared baking dish and bake at 325°F until top is deep golden brown, about one hour. If you are using a 2" deep dish, the pudding will almost certainly puff up over the top of it. While the pudding is cooling somewhat, gradually whisk both sugars into the melted butter at low heat until they have dissolved. Whisk egg in the medium bowl you used when making the pudding, and gradually whisk in a little of the butter-and-sugar mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and whisk until smooth, about a minute; do not boil. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in the bourbon.
Spoon warm bread pudding into bowls or plates and ladle sauce over. If you like, top with dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream before serving.
Recipe courtesy of Grapevine Cottage, a wine and food store with locations in and around Indianapolis.
Pickled Watermelon Rinds
4 quarts watermelon rind (whites part only), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup kosher salt
2 gallons of water, divided
3 cups white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole, assorted color peppercorns
7 cups sugar
3 (1 quart) Canning jars with lids
In a large bowl or pot, stir salt into one gallon of water until dissolved. Add watermelon rinds and let sit overnight.
Drain off water and thoroughly rinse rinds. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook watermelon rinds with remaining one gallon of water. Cook the rinds until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Return the saucepan to heat and add vinegar, sugar and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add watermelon rinds and cook until transparent, about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Sterilize jars and lids directly before using for 10 minutes in simmering water or in the dishwasher. Remove one at a time when ready to fill. While rinds are still hot, use a slotted spoon to transfer into the hot sterilized jars. Pour vinegar solution over rinds, filling to within 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth and seal jars with lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath (making sure water level is 1 inch over the top of the jars) for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and allow cooling on the counter overnight.
Recipe Courtesy of Cooking with Paula Deen Magazine July/August 2010