Passing the Baguette

bread okThis past Tuesday, rather than do my usual volunteering task of packing food for clients, I went and picked up the Panera bread and sweets that get donated to our pantry, since the lady who regularly makes this run is on vacation this week.  I think a while ago I mentioned the bread we get from Panera, but for those who have not read that post let me explain.  Once a week on Tuesdays the food pantry receives a delivery of breads and sweets that Panera Bread would otherwise throw away because they had not sold within Panera’s allotted time.

I have been curious about how these items get to us, so I was happy to make the run to pick them up.  Instead of heading into the pantry on Tuesday, I drove to an office park near Wilmington, DE, where I met the person who is the first leg of the relay.  After picking up the bread and sweets from Panera in West Chester, PA, she brings them to work with her.  I asked her how this relay came to be.  She said that she saw Panera employees throwing away the bread products one day and asked them about what they were doing.  She was told it was bread that hadn’t sold and if she couldbagels find someone to come and take the bread, Panera would let her have it.  She called all around the West Chester area and no one needed bread.  While conducting this search, she made contact with the person who is the second leg of the relay.  This lady knew about our pantry through one of our volunteers and asked us if we might be interested in this Panera bread if she brought it to us.  Absolutely!  And the relay was born–from a West Chester Panera to a business park in Wilmington, DE to a food pantry in rural Southern Chester County.

We usually get 1-2 grocery carts full of all sorts of bread products-baguettes, boules, rolls, bread bowls and bagels-in white, wheat and seeded form.  In addition to the breads, we get panera sweetssweets as well, from Danish and scones to cookies and brownies to muffins and cinnamon buns.  We get whatever didn’t sell.  Once the bread and sweets get to us we package them for storing so they can be distributed throughout the week.  I usually help with packaging the sweets.  These we wrap individually in plastic wrap.  We don’t get enough sweets to give to every household, so we save them for treats for clients who are experiencing an unusual hardship, like caring for someone who is ill or a grandmother raising her grandchildren.  Most of what we receive is bread and the bread products get bagged to be frozen.  A retired couple comes in on Tuesday afternoons to volunteer to do this task.  The amount of bread we get each week determines how we distribute it.  Usually we have enough to distribute something to each household, but sometimes when the delivery is small we use save the bread for large families to help augment their allotment.  We also use this bread for our homeless clients when we can.

I love this arrangement for several reasons.  First, I love that this perfectly good food is not going to waste and into a landfill.  In addition to our group getting the bread from this Panera on Monday nights, other groups pick up unsold bread on other nights.  Secondly, I love that our clients, who’s lives are full of struggle and stress, are getting a treat.  Who doesn’t love a loaf of good bread or some nice bagels?  Finally, I love the humanity exhibited by all the people who go out of their way to make this happen week after week.  Being a part of this relay of bread, and now understanding what each person does to keep bread out of the trash and get it delivered to people who need it, helps to restore my faith in the generosity and kindness of the American people.



Bread Need Never Be Wasted

breadAll of the talk last week about the importance of cooking from scratch put me in the mood to write about cooking again.  This time I am going to focus on what to do with stale or excess bread.  As I mentioned in a previous post, each of the pantries where I volunteer gets bread donated from large retailers who have pulled the bread from sale in their establishments.  By bread I do not mean sliced bread for sandwiches, but loaves of bread, like French or Italian bread.  These donations come in once a week.  Sometimes they are barely enough to distribute to all the clients, but other times they are bountiful.  When the donations are large, excess bread is kept in the freezer or refrigerator.  When the current week’s bread arrives, any remaining from the previous week must be discarded to make space.  A couple of weeks ago I happen to be volunteering when a large bag of bread was brought out to be discarded.  It bothered me to see perfectly good, albeit stale, bread being thrown away.  I decided to take it, with the idea of finding uses for it.

As I started going through my cookbooks looking for recipes using bread I came across the sentence I used for my title in a cookbook by Alice Waters.  Boy was she right!  Here are some of the uses for stale bread that I found.  The first use for stale bread that immediately came to mind was bread pudding.  My mother made this dessert quite a bit when I was growing up.  While I was familiar with bread pudding as a dessert, I also discovered recipes for savory bread puddings that can be used as a side dish for dinner.  Like adding raisins or other fruit to a dessert bread pudding, the savory bread pudding can be made with vegetable add ins, like winter squash, roasted peppers or eggplant.  Sticking with side dishes, a great use for stale bread in the summer when tomatoes and fresh basil are plentiful and flavorfulpanzanella is Panzanella, an Italian bread salad.  Fattoush, a Lebanese bread salad, is also good in the summer.  It is usually made with pita bread, but I have substituted a cubed sturdy loaf bread in place of the pita bread and it worked just fine.

Stale loaf bread lends itself to breakfast casseroles as well.  My kids love a baked French toast casserole I make or you could just slice the bread and make individual slices of French toast.  Additionally, there are numerous variations on the breakfast strata, which is a layered stratabreakfast casserole consisting mainly of eggs, bread and cheese.  To those main ingredients you can add any of the breakfast meats and/or vegetables like spinach, peppers or mushrooms.  The great thing about most of these breakfast casseroles is that they can be assembled the night before and would just need to be cooked in the morning.  The strata I make the most calls for ham, which is a great use for leftover ham as well.  I think stratas make a great breakfast-for-dinner meal too, add on a salad or better yet, make the strata with some spinach for a one dish meal!

The recipes I have discussed so far are dishes using bread, but stale bread can be transformed into other things to be used in recipes.  Homemade croutons are a good use for stale bread.  Just cube the bread up, toss it with some oil (preferably olive oil) and herbs or garlic, and bake until the bread has dried out.  Croutons can be tossed in a salad or served in a soup.  Similarly,croutons you can make homemade bread crumbs too.  Finally, I have made toasts for snacking.  This is particularly good if you have a baguette, as the slices are the perfect size.  I mix together spices and olive oil, then brush it on the thinly sliced baguette and bake until the slices are crunchy.  The ones I make have a spicy mixture of spices on them, but I have often wanted to try ones with a mixture of Italian spices and maybe some cheese.   Finally, bread, wrapped well, can be frozen for up to 3 months, so if  you have the ability to freeze it for a later use that is always an option too.

I did not make all these recipes with the bag of bread I brought home, but I have made a version of every recipe I mentioned, sometimes with fresh bread, but most often with stale bread which usually works better.  Although not the recipes I used, I have included links to recipes for a couple of dishes I mentioned to give an idea of what the dish is like.  One thing did concern me as I was reading over recipes, particularly the ones for casseroles.  Most of those recipes called for several eggs and a good deal of milk, or even cream.  These ingredients are often precious to people who are struggling to make food last as long as it can.  In discussing making bread pudding with my mother she mentioned she sometimes makes her grandmother’s recipe.  I knew from stories my mother had shared about lean times during her childhood, that this recipe would be a simple one yet would still taste good.  I asked my mother for the recipe and sure enough it uses less eggs, a bit less sugar and omits the vanilla all together, while still being tasty.  I have included this recipe below.  Thanks Granny, both of you!

Granny’s Bread Pudding

  • 3 cups bread torn into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • optional ingredients include 1/2 cup of raisins, blueberries or chocolate chips or a sliced banana

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix bread and milk together and let sit for 15 minutes.  Mix together slightly beaten eggs, sugar and cinnamon.  Add this mixture to the bread/milk mixture and stir.  Add any optional ingredients and stir.  Turn into an 8x8x2 inch baking dish and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.