For the grand finale in our Route 66 series, Meg asked me to create a prickly pear bread pudding similar to the one she enjoyed from The Turquoise Room menu at historic La Posada.
With very little to go on other than the internet and Meg’s description, and the essential ingredient – prickly pear – rarely available in the UK, I set about rising to the challenge armed with just a flavor profile. In the absence of prickly pears for the syrup, I had to be creative and found that watermelon makes a great substitute. To plate the dish similarly to the one at La Posada I used a cookie cutter to remove single servings from the slow cooker.
In addition, you can make this in individual, deep, ramekin dishes in a conventional oven. I followed my slow cooker method because it gives me time to head out for a couple of hours to yoga on a Sunday morning, and return to brunch waiting when I get home.
There is however, a much more interesting background to La Posada which Meg’s sister and traveling companion Ann shared with me recently. So I asked her to write up her notes to complement the post this week.
One of our favorite hotels along the way was the historic La Posada in Winslow, Arizona. The story of La Posada began with Fred Harvey – the man who “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel.
When he was just 15 years old, Fred Harvey emigrated to the United States from Liverpool, England. He first worked as a dishwasher in New York, but eventually worked and learned about the restaurant business. As he took on a succession of jobs, he noticed that the lunchrooms serving rail passengers were horrible and most trains did not have dining cars. The custom at the time was to make dining stops every 100 miles or so. Sometimes there would be a restaurant at the station, but more often than not, there was nothing to feed hungry travelers.
Seeing all this, Fred Harvey came up with the idea of building restaurants along the Santa Fe railroad line. The first Harvey House Restaurant opened in the Topeka, Kansas Santa Fe Depot Station in 1876. His business focused on cleanliness, service, reasonable prices, and good food. It was an immediate success. The Harvey Houses became the first chain restaurants. They extended from Kansas to California. In their heyday, there were 84 Harvey Houses and they continued to be built and operated into the 1930s and 1940s, even after Fred Harvey’s death.
Fred Harvey would quietly visit his restaurants to make sure they met his standards. The story goes that he visited one restaurant in “the wild west.” The place and the waiters were a mess – there had been a wild brawl the night before. Furious, he fired everyone and decided to break with tradition and hire women. At a time, when the only jobs for respectable females, were as domestics or teachers, Harvey began to recruit women in newspaper ads across the nation. In order to qualify as one of the “Harvey Girls,” the women had to have:
at least an eighth-grade education
good moral character
be neat and articulate
Harvey paid good wages with free room, board, and uniforms. In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six-month contract, agree not to marry, and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. For adventuresome women, this became a much sought-after job. When they were hired, they were given a free rail pass to their chosen destination. Hiring women was a revolutionary idea and turned out to be a very successful one at that.
In the 1920s, Harvey decided to build a major hotel in Winslow, AZ. La Posada was to be the finest hotel in the Southwest. Construction costs alone exceeded $1 million in 1929. The hotel opened in 1930 and remained open for 27 years. Falling into disrepair, it was nearly razed. Eventually it was bought in 1994 and returned to its glory days when the guests included people like John Wayne, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart and Franklin Roosevelt! Today La Posada is on the Historic Register and is a gem of a place to stay — if for no other reason than enjoying the cuisine at its restaurant. Within the hotel is this fabulous – in my opinion, five-star restaurant – The Turquoise Room. We had two meals at the restaurant – the food was creative, delicious and reasonably price. The service was terrific – our darling waitress was one of “The Harvey Girls.”
Our desert for the evening was this amazing bread pudding with roasted marshmallows, prickly pear syrup and fresh strawberries.
In the U.S you can buy prickly pear cactus fruit in Mexican grocery stores and elsewhere. In the U.K try the watermelon!
If you purchase 2 Slow Cooker Spice Blends, we will send you a Sweet & Spicy pouch for free. Each pouch includes 2 packets of pre-measured, premium spices, to make the signature recipe included. Just type “back to Fall” in the order notes section in the shopping cart.
- 6 cups / 1/2 loaf brioche or stale white bread, cut into 1” cubes
- 1/2 cup / 3 oz raisins
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 7 large eggs
- 3 1/2 cups / 28 fl oz whole milk
- (or low fat / almond milk / cream)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon *
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ginger, ground
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/2 small watermelon / 4 cups chopped and pureed
- 1 cup sugar
- fresh strawberries or raspberries
- mint leaves
- powdered sugar
- whipped cream or thick sour cream
- coat the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray
- spread bread in the bottom of the slow cooker and sprinkle the raisins over the top
- whisk eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and spices
- pour mixture over bread cubes and press lightly to make sure all the bread is submerged
- cover and cook on LOW: 4 hours or HIGH: 2 1/2 hrs
- while the bread pudding is cooking chop and puree the watermelon in a small blender, push through a sieve and pour the resulting liquid into a small saucepan
- add the sugar to the watermelon liquid bring to a boil
- reduce the heat and let simmer until reduced to a medium thick syrup (15-20 minutes) and stir occasionally
- leave the syrup to cool, it will thicken
- serve on a dish or plate, arrange the cut strawberries or raspberries around the pudding and drizzle with the watermelon syrup. Top with mint leaves and powdered sugar.
- bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes at 350F or 175C
- * replace raisins and pine nuts with any dried fruit and nuts you like such as almonds and cranberries or cherries
- * replace the 4 spices above with 1 packet Slow Cooker Sweet & Spicy blend
“You must be in tune with the times and prepared to break with tradition.”