With the advent of my third UnderCover Dish mystery, PUDDING UP WITH MURDER, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about pudding, that comfort food thousands of years in the making.
According to Food Timeline, custard-like foods date back to the Middle Ages, but foods that were called “puddings” were initially sausage-like, contained within a skin. Eventually, sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries, pudding evolved until it was more like cake (as in the English puddings that we sing about in Christmas carols).
Somewhere in the 19th Century pudding was boiled, sometimes with chocolate added, and it came to have a new consistency and a new group of fans. The original title of my book was THE RICE PUDDING PROBLEM because Lilah Drake, undercover chef, bakes a giant pan of rice pudding casserole for some children at a party. Rice pudding, like many puddings, is a comfort food, thick with rice and custard and sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.
According to this site (http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html), rice pudding was, in ancient days, a sort of medicine. “This ancient recipe was traditionally prescribed for the young and infirm. The formulae were inscribed in medical texts before they showed up in cookbooks. Tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch puddings (made from new world thickeners) were also recommended as restoratives.”
My own mother used to make rice pudding in a pot, with the “old fashioned” recipe of boiling the rice, then adding milk, sugar and salt until thick and creamy. It’s a simple recipe, but always seems to reach something in the soul, as do many foods that bring us gastronomical pleasure even while they connect us to some emotion—love, or nostalgia, or togetherness.
Thanks to my mother, I am a fan of many puddings; I love a nice bowl of chocolate pudding, or vanilla, or butterscotch (delicious!), but I also like the textual complexity of tapioca pudding, bread pudding, and rice pudding. She made them all when we were children, poured them from the pot into parfait cups, then stored them in the fridge so that they would gel and be the “fancy” dessert we ate after dinner. I used to open the fridge more than once to look at those gleaming vessels and anticipate the delicious dessert to come.
In PUDDING UP WITH MURDER, Lilah understands the connection between food and emotion; she is an alchemist in this sense, bringing more than flavor out of food, but finding ways to turn it into something deeper, richer, for her customers.
What’s your favorite pudding? And what emotion does it evoke in you?