Sometimes, you just never know what will appeal to a kid. You can guess, but sometimes the stuff that works, you’d never pick in a million years. In our house one day, Rice Pudding was one of those things.
When my daughter was in middle school one of the assignments for comparative cultures was for each student to bring in a special dish reflective of his or her heritage. Typically, I was not informed of this assignment until quite late the evening before it was due.
“Mom, what kind of food would our ancestors have eaten?” Asked with much attitude and surliness (Remember? Middle School).
“No idea.” More like, I had no idea what I was getting into. And then, it begins to dawn on me, “Why? Do you need something for school? A recipe or some kind of report?” Please let this be easy, I pray.
“Nope, it’s for class tomorrow. We need to make a dish to help illustrate our family heritage. I need enough for 30 kids and the teacher.” Spoken as though she would be shopping and preparing the dish herself.
“OH GOD! I don’t know honey. I have no idea. Everything I’m thinking of would be too complicated. I’d have to go to the store TONIGHT, which I am not going to do.” Teenage tears are looming; and I’m thinking about bangers and mash or herring. I’m not ashamed to say I tried to placate her just to keep peace and quiet. Thinking out loud and talking fast, “Okay, a dish, an easy dish. A dish I have the ingredients for. Rice Pudding. This is probably as British as you can get – we ARE part English.” My daughter looks skeptical about the rice pudding, our family origins, and my ability to deliver edible product.
All of this drama happened before you could search EVERYTHING that could be searched on Google; so I really was functioning on instinct and motherhood desperation. Just for fun, I recently looked up the origins of rice pudding and found that nearly EVERY culture in the world enjoys a nice bowl of rice pudding in some variation, including the Brits (whew). There are a ton of recipes and since rice pudding IS quite soothing and delicious; you should make some!
Back to middle school before Google.
I get up early and make the rice pudding so that it will still be warm by the time she presents it to her class. I skip the raisins (ICK) and add cinnamon and a little nutmeg, just to be fancy. I’m feeling pretty good about “our” assignment; and send my daughter off to school for the day.
That afternoon she arrives home and doesn’t say a word. I have been waiting ALL day for a report from her. No widespread cell phones yet – so no constant and immediate feedback. I’m a little anxious and have to know, “So, how was it?”
“How was what?” Seriously?
“The pudding, how did it work out? Did everyone like it?”
Very causally, “Oh, no one else had rice pudding and they all loved it. Some kids wanted a second helping. Thanks mom.” Really, that’s all that it takes to melt my heart. And then, “How come you never make it for us?”
I know this seems silly, but there was something so sweet about making a teenager happy with a bowl of cooked rice with milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a simple thing that I would have never guessed.
Crisis averted. Pudding saves the day.
Several years ago, my mother, my sister and I took a trip up to the mountains. We arrived to quite a bit of snow. All was quiet and beautiful for my sister’s January birthday. There was some discussion about dessert for her birthday dinner and it was decided that we would bake an apple pie from scratch.
My mother, while not a very good cook, baked a pretty good pie; and was excellent at making pie dough. To this day, her pie crust is really the only one I like.
When mom was happy, her energy was light and busy and sweet like a determined little hummingbird. If I concentrate, I can still feel what it was like to be in the presence of that energy. It was warmth and goodness and the brightest color yellow you could ever imagine. Anytime mom could be with her girls she was happy. She was delighted for us all to be together, working on that pie, and acting as though we had all the time in the world.
The snow fell lightly through the trees; and the world outside the kitchen windows was pure and quiet. The three of us worked together on the pie; but mom was in charge and called the shots. Working in the kitchen with her on this project was a beautiful, active kind of prayer. There was much laughter and that little bit of frustration that happens when you know and love someone VERY well; and then find yourselves navigating in a rather small kitchen. There were also hugs and pats on the arm, and oh so much grace.
When I was little, if mom was making pie dough, there was sure to be some left over; and those scraps were made into Rollie Pollies. Roll out the extra dough, spread softened butter, sugar and cinnamon on, roll it up and cut into bite sized bites. Bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes at 325 degrees. Watch closely so they don’t burn.
Today, was no different, we made Rollie Pollies with the extra. How were we to know that was the last batch?
As we cut the lard into the flour mixture, there was the usual discussion about how patient you had to be to make a REALLY good dough. You had to know just how much iced water to add and you had to cut the mixture in until the pieces of lard/flour were smaller than the size of peas. And about her crust and a few other things; mom was patient. Each step precise. Each step Zen.
The apple filling mixture, not so much. A bit too light on the sugar and a bit too heavy on the lemon so it was TART. SO TART. But her crust was divine; and beyond reproach.
I’m not sure she would have cared much; but I think someone should have told my mom that she was a stupendous baker.
June 30, 2016 – AmyLee