Tag Archives: rice

Anna’s rice pudding

13 Jan

Our story begins, as so many of them do, at a not-altogether chance encounter with a family member on the afternoon of Christmas Eve last.

“Open your mouth, Meatball, I made Anna’s rice pudding,” commanded Cousin Jennifer, pointing a half-filled spoon at my person and approaching from a distance of seven or so feet. “It’s not any good but I want your opinion anyway. I’ve been waiting for you to show up.”

I have never known Jennifer, daughter to Cousins John and Susie, to be the bossy type and so her aggression was unanticipated. Even Aunt Laura, her grandmother, whom we both were visiting on this holiday and whose diminished health leaves her senses somewhat compromised, looked surprised.

More shocking still is that Jennifer had “made” anything at all. So far as I am aware my cousin’s stovetop is little more than overflow storage space in her small apartment-size kitchen. A story circulates that she once cleared off a burner in order to bring a bit of water to a boil, for tea I was told, but no evidence of this exists, and nobody believes the account anyway.

And yet, here we were, in Laura’s living room, surrounded by other family, not to mention all the beautiful Christmas cookies and candies lined along a sideboard and available for all to enjoy.

Now, I love my cousin very much; let’s be clear on this. Her spirit is generous, her heart full. Being spoon-fed by her hand, if only for a taste or two, was more an intimate familial moment than a culinary one, defined not by the quality of Jennifer’s cooking but by her desire to share the experience with, of all the many fine people in her orbit, me.

“Well?” she said watching as the first bit of pudding made its way around the inside of my mouth. “It’s terrible, right.”

It was nothing of the kind and I said as much.

“Tastes like Anna’s rice pudding, all right. You did good, Jen.”

Just then a second spoonful arrived at my lips.

“But?” Jennifer challenged as I accepted a second taste of her experiment. “C’mon, just say it.”

For someone with so little knowledge of things culinary my cousin proved to know more than I had credited her with. Her rice pudding might have tasted like Aunt Anna’s but the texture… Well, it was all wrong—and she knew it.

“Okay, it’s maybe just a little bit dense,” I offered delicately. “But only a little, can hardly notice.”

This was a yellow cream-colored lie, of course. On the density scale Jennifer’s pudding was in the eighty percentile whereas our aunt’s might sit more in the forty range. She simply had overcooked the pudding, that’s all. At least in my view.

“For a first time out you did real good,” I said encouragingly. “Maybe just cook it a little less next time, or at a lower flame. More importantly, don’t give up. You can do this.”

Arriving back home to Maine after the long holidays I received a text from Jennifer about an unrelated topic, which prompted me to scroll through past messages we had shared throughout the year. I stopped cold at this picture of her with Aunt Anna. They were in Anna’s kitchen some months ago and had decided to say hello to me by sending this photo. “Wish you were here” was their message.

I am not readily moved to emotion and yet this simple, out-of-focus, poorly lighted, not in the least remarkable picture pretty much left me helpless. Certainly its message did. And so I went to my kitchen and did the one thing that I knew would bring the three of us together again: I called my aunt, got her recipe and made her rice pudding.

What else could I do?

Anna’s Rice Pudding
Serves 4-6 people

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup rice
Pinch of salt
8 ounces heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins

Add the milk, rice and salt to a saucepan and turn the heat to medium; stir frequently so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks and incorporate with half of the cream.

When the milk comes to a boil turn the heat to low and allow the rice to cook at a slow simmer for around 40 minutes or so, or until the rice has absorbed most of the milk. (Don’t allow the milk to completely evaporate; this will stiffen the rice too much.)

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and the rest of the cream (the cream that was NOT added to the egg yolks).

Add the egg yolks and cream and incorporate.

Cover the bottom of a serving tray with the raisins and pour the pudding over it.

Allow to cool, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

The man in the pan

16 Feb
My father was a cook in the Army, not at home. The only thing I can remember him ever preparing was a crispy rice dish, sort of an Italian-American version of the Korean bi bim bap. He would line the inside of a well-oiled black iron pan with cooked white rice, let that fry a good long while, then layer in a variety of meats, cheeses and vegetables.
Not a man bound by orthodoxy, the dish, as best I can recall, never tasted the same twice. How could it? One day the meat might be freshly prepared sausage, another day leftover fried veal cutlets or pork rib meat from Sunday’s gravy. Vegetables could be sliced mushrooms or ripe tomatoes or cooked carrots or what was left of the sauteed escarole we’d had the night before. Cheese? The only thing you could count on was that there would be some of it present, either mixed inside or grated on top.
After the rice had browned sufficiently, by which I mean after it had become crunchy hard, and all the other ingredients had either cooked, reheated or melted, my father would crack a couple eggs and slowly empty them over the fried-up mass. There the eggs would settle to cook, under a lid now, but not too much; a runny egg is better than a stiff one, at least to my father and to me.
Now, on this next point, I must admit that I could be terribly mistaken. Because I do not recall anybody else being around when my father prepared this dish. There is just him in my memory and, I’m guessing, a 10-year-old me. That’s it.
I can see him at the stove, the one in the kitchen behind our fountain service store, and see myself nearby watching him as he cooks. I am also picturing us both at the little formica-topped table out back of the store while we ate the crispy rice. Crunch-crunch-crunching until the black pan was empty and our stomachs full.
But again, I am not at all certain that my memory can be trusted. When you lose someone before you have had time to grow a bit larger alongside them, it is possible that remembrances, such as this one, are more molded than recalled.
I would like to keep this particular memory intact, if I could. Otherwise, the crunchy rice dish that has comforted me for so long just would never, ever taste the same.
And I would miss that. Very much.