Over forty years ago, as I landed in the U.S., I came across a short poem and was stunned by the powerful images:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Written by Langston Hughes, one of the prominent leaders and moving forces of Harlem Renaissance but a total unknown in communist Russia, where I came from, it hit me with a surge of emotion I wasn’t even able to understand at that time.
Next came the play by Lorraine Hansberry, whose title was taken from Hughes’ poem, A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first in many ways: the first play written by a black woman produced on Broadway, with the first black director Lloyd Richards; for the first time, trials and tribulations of black lives were introduced to white audience, and for the first time large numbers of black spectators flocked to the theater. The New York Times remarked that this play “changed American theater forever.”
“A dream deferred” eventually exploded in the sixties, exploded violently, drenching the country in blood of some of its best sons. Their martyrdom resulted in many drastic changes. Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is gradually being realized. Certainly, there is still a long way to go, yet children all over the country spend every February learning about black history, and I think that’s an achievement in itself.
I found it quite indicative of those positive changes when a group of my students whose assignment was to prepare a team presentation about one of the prominent people in American history, chose Frederick Douglass. All four of them (from left to right: Amelia, Rosa, Daisy, and Eduardo) came from different countries. They had a long list of illustrious personages, of different races, ethnicities, and genders, to choose from. Yet they selected a nineteenth century African-American, a former slave turned intellectual and a famous social reformer, and created a glorious tribute to his life and achievements.
My humble contribution to this glorious tribute is a Rum and Raisins Bread Pudding. My dry raisins grow plump and juicy by soaking in rum.
I used up my leftover spelt challah, but any bread could be used. For our purposes, spelt is gluten free, but if you have allergies or suffer from celiac disorder, please consult your physician. I break bread into bite-size pieces, rather than smallish crumbs – it retains better texture – and soak them in vanilla soy milk. I am sure any non-dairy plant-based milk substitute will work just as well. Then I add just a little Smart Balance, brown sugar, cinnamon, and those plump and juicy raisins.
It doesn’t look very attractive yet, but wait! Dump this mess into a lightly misted with oil baking pan and bake it for about an hour.
It must be springy to the touch and it should be coming off the sides of the pan. I dust it with unsweetened cocoa powder, but it could also be dusted with powdered sugar, if you prefer. Leave it in the oven for a few more minutes, allowing the dusting to bake in.
As I serve it hot, in a pool of chocolate syrup, I recall one of Frederick Douglass’ famous quotes, as timely today as it was 150 years ago.
6 – 8 bread slices (4 cups of bite-size pieces)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup rum
1/2 cup soy or any other plant-based milk substitute
1/3 cup Smart Balance or any other non-dairy butter substitute
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly mist round or 8 x 8 square baking pan with oil.
Soak raising in tum until plump, about 15 – 20 minutes. Break bread into bite-size pieces, soak in soy milk until soft. Combine all ingredients, mix gently, but thoroughly.
Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until springy to the touch and comes off sides easily. Dust with unsweetened cocoa or powdered sugar, leave in oven for 5 more minutes.
Serve hot with chocolate syrup or ice cream.