En español | Whenever I think of my great-grandmother, I think of Ellis Island and then, inevitably, I think of stale bread. My great-grandmother was born a peasant in Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island, under the welcoming gaze of the Statue of Liberty.
But what I remember most about her was being bowled over by the smell of yeast from her kitchen when she greeted us at her front door. Strewn across her counters and dining room table were slices of bread, carefully laid out so that they could go stale.
In the old country, her family had been so poor she grew up eating crusty European-style bread that was handed out for free to needy families by the local baker after it was too old and stale to sell. As a result, my great-grandmother developed a fondness for the taste of hard bread.
After she moved to America and could afford fresh bread, Grandma Yeager found it wholly unsatisfying. That’s when she started letting the bread get stale. Sure, her house always smelled like a brewery, but I loved that dear woman and have to admit that stale bread really should be treasured, not trashed (that is, unless there is mold on it). Here are some ideas for reusing bread.
Croutons: Sauté cubes of days-old bread in olive oil and/or butter with a little Parmesan cheese, and you’ll never eat croutons from a box again.
Meatloaf mop: Put a layer of days-old bread in the bottom of the dish to soak up excess fat when baking a meatloaf or roasting other greasy meats.
Bread crumbs: Give stale bread a whirl in the blender or food processor along with some Italian seasonings and, voila, you’ll never buy bread crumbs again. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Bread Soups: So-called "bread soups" are a hardy dinnertime staple in countries around the globe, and for good reason — they're delicious and cheap. My favorite is this tomato-bread soup.
Stale = Fresh?: Keep freshly-baked cookies soft for longer by storing them with a slice of stale bread in an airtight container. This storage method will also keep brown sugar from hardening in the pantry. Who knew?
Bottoms Up: Great-grandma was a proud teetotaler, although she didn’t consider Russian "kvass" — a light beer-like drink made with stale bread — to be alcoholic, since it typically has an alcohol content of only around 1%. She’d make it by putting a slice of stale bread in a cup of water, let it sit for a day, strain out the bread, then add two tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of yeast starter along with a few raisins. When the raisins float, it's ready to drink. Just for the record, "kvass" means "acid" in Polish, so proceed at your own risk.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Start with stale bread rather than fresh and your grilled cheese sandwiches and panini will be even crispier.
Bread Salads: For this classic Mediterranean dish, toss an ample amount of stale bread cubes in with tomatoes, olives, lettuces and other fresh vegetables, dress with olive oil and wine vinegar, and you can make an entire dinner out of this simple salad.
Bread & Milk Poultice: My great-grandmother would use a mixture of stale bread and warm milk wrapped in a bandage or towel to bring boils and abscesses to a head. I think I’ll stick with bread pudding.
Bread Puddings: Everybody’s great-grandmother had her favorite bread pudding recipe. In the fall, I like to add some canned pumpkin and dried cranberries to mine.
Thicken Sauces: Sauces, soups and stews can be thickened simply by stirring in bread crumbs.
Garlic Bread: Rub stale bread with garlic and olive oil, then bake for the crispiest garlic bread ever. Or try stale bread bruschetta topped with chopped tomatoes, onion and olives on the grill.
Breakfast Cereal: Another creative reuse from my great-grandmother. She loved stale bread with brown sugar and milk on it in lieu of store-bought breakfast cereal.
French Toast: A more conventional use of stale bread for breakfast. In fact, French toast is one of the more common uses of stale bread. Try using stale bread instead of fresh for your favorite French toast recipe and you'll be amazed by how much tastier it is.
Bring It Back to Life: Of course you can also revive stale bread and make it soft again by wrapping it in a moist paper towel and microwaving it for 30 seconds or so. But that would just break my great-grandmother's heart.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.