In Basket: Baking Bread Pudding (and more)

Dear Herb Companion,

Thanks so much for the recipe Bay-Infused Bread Pudding with Decadent, Easy Rum Sauce from your March 2009 article “Bay: An Herb That Can Rest Upon its Laurels.” I made them today and they tasted delicious! But I have a question. The rum sauce was very thin. Is it supposed to be thin?
Betty Musick, Salina, Kansas

Traditionally, rum sauces are thin, but you can thicken it. After you scald the milk with bay, let it cool for half an hour. When you add the butter, whisk in a tablespoon of cornstarch or an egg yolk to thicken. –Susan Belsinger

I am going to subscribe to The Herb Companion, but I was curious to know if the issues contain a calendar of herbal gardening events? I would love to attend workshops and informational talks on the growing and use of herbs. Thank you.
Lynda Mills, Houston

Welcome to our community. To enter calendar events or see what’s coming up, The Herb Society of America hosts great educational events throughout the country. to find a local chapter or to sign up for its great annual conference, which will be held June 4-6 in Michigan. The International Herb Association is another excellent organization devoted to –Eds.

I enjoyed the January 2009 article “Chocolate: Eat, Wear, Rub In.” I’ve made the Mocha Facial Mask twice. I found that powdered instant coffee granules work well in the recipe and I love the way the mask makes my face feel. However, I found that the entire recipe made four to five applications, instead of one. You might want to let other readers know this.
Rachel Albert-Matesz, Phoenix

Thanks! Rachel is a food/health writer who contributes to The Herb Companion.–Eds.

I made the focaccia bread today from the January 2009 article “An Herbal Feast for the Holiday Season.” I would like to point out that there is no pan size included. I guessed at the size for a recipe that called for 7 cups all-purpose flour. I used a 9.5×13.5×2″ glass pan. I don’t know how thick focaccia is supposed to be. Mine is a little above the pan top–more than 21?2 inches.
Lila Jones, via

A reader requested a basil jam recipe. I have one for Cinnamon Basil Jelly.

Cinnamon Basil Jelly

Makes 4 half pints
• 1 1/2 cups cinnamon basil leaves
• 2 1/4 cups cold water
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
• One 3-ounce pouch liquid pectin

1. Finely chop the basil and place in a saucepan with 2 1/4 cups cold water. Bring to full boil, cover and remove from heat.

2. Allow to steep for 15 min. Pour mixture into a fine strainer and let it drip. There should be about 1 3/4 C. of basil tea.

3. Place tea into a large saucepan with the lemon juice and sugar. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a full rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

4. Stir in the pectin. Ladle jelly into sterilized half-pint jars. Clean the jar rims and seal with lids and rings. Turn upside down for 30 min. to seal lids, then turn right side up and allow to cool and set.

Wendy Higgins, West Virginia

I enjoyed your March 2009 article “Step By Step Your Garden Grows“, but I wanted to why we should waste energy in sod removal? When planning a new garden bed, I use an old trick found in a rose grower’s primer: Once I’ve marked out the area to plant, I cover the ground with horticultural gypsum (we have clay soil) and follow up with several layers of newsprint to block sunlight. A thick layer of dried leaves comes next, topped with any soil or partial compost to weigh them down – you should have about a 4- to 6-inch height when finished. Water it in well and leave to work for several months. I’ve successfully used this method in the fall to create new beds and borders for the last 10 years. Come spring, nature has done the work for me and all that’s necessary is to dig and plant.
Theresa Rooney, Minnesota

Thank you so much for the January 2009 article “Discover Cardamom“. I gave my plant to my sister and she is going to bring me another start of it when she comes to visit. I love The Herb Companion. I am making a raised bed in my backyard to grow my culinary herbs, as well as some tomato plants and squash. I am thrilled my doctor suggested it for a senior with back and knee problems (“Grow your herbs without taking your back out,” she said.) I learned about herbs from a spot of spearmint growing in my aunt’s garden, along with a huge plant of garden sage. It was the fragrance that hooked me.
Elsie Barton, via

Thank you for January 2009 article “Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses,” by James A. Duke, Ph.D. I would like to share this clarification on the ‘aloes’ of John 19: 39, 40. It is taken from insight on the scriptures:

Aloe, Aloeswood [Herb., ‘aha-lim’ (plural) and ‘aha-lohth'(plural); Gr. a-lo’e]. A name applied to a variety if tree containing a fragrant, or aromatic, substance use a as perfume in the Biblical period. (Ps 45:8; Pr 7:17; CA 4:14) Most commentators consider the aloe tree of the Bible to be the Aquilaria agallocha, sometimes called the eaglewood tree and now found principally in India and neighboring regions. The tree is large and spreading, at times reaching a height of 30 m (c.100 ft). The inner core of the trunk and of branches in impregnated with resin and an odor perfume. Apparently attaining its most aromatic state when in decay, the wood is sometimes buried in the ground to haste the decaying process. In a finely powdered condition it is then sold commercially as “aloes.”

Following the death of Christ Jesus, Nicodemus brought “a roll of myrrh and aloes” weighing about 100 Roman pounds (33 Kg; 72 lb), to be used in preparing Jesus’ body for burial. (Joh 19:39) Nicodemus’ contribution must have represented a considerable outlay of money on his part, although the proportion of the less expensive myrrh included in the 100 pounds is not stated. While some apply the term “aloes” in this text to the plant on the lily family that now bears the botanical name of Aloe Vera, the product of this plant (a thik juice from the leaves) is employed not for its aroma but as a purgative and for other health-related purposes. The aloes brought by Nicodemus was likely the same aloeswood product as that referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures.  

As a Bible scholar, Dr. Duke will no doubt agree with another refinement. The magi were not present and giving gifts to ‘newborn Jesus’ in the manger in Bethlehem, as commonly depicted in Christmas art. The astrologers were first led by star to murderous King Herod then sent by him to search in Bethlehem. When they arrived, Jesus was a ‘young child’ living with his parents in a ‘house.’ (Matt. 2:1-18, Luke 2:1-20)
Virginia Trull, Ohio