rice pudding trials
it must trace back to the breast. yes, the original suckling breast. (forgive me for shocking so early in the morning, but, yes, this is where we begin.) imagine the soft fullness of the mother’s breast, engorged with milk, tubes and ducts surging with all a little one needs. imagine the heartbeat just beyond the milk. imagine the baby’s cheek pressed against flesh; pillowed, you might say. imagine the countenances, eyes locked in a channel of concentration, mother to babe and back again. imagine the wee little curls of finger, grabbing hold and not letting go; flesh entwined with flesh.
that must be the original comfort food: sustenance. warmth. insistent and unceasing rhythm of heart, the original lullaby, non?
and so, we humans are hard-wired to seek it.
it should not surprise, then, that in a moment of global paralysis, when you can’t get out of the house where you grew up (and your mother and father have nothing more to do than indulge you in their too-lavish attentions), when your college campus is far beyond reach, when the springtime you imagined has gone up in red-ringed vapors, there might come urgency in the department of cooking.
comfort cooking might be the call of the day. comfort cooking might teeter on the sharp edge of survival. comfort cooking might be the handiest cure for the stuck-at-home blues.
which brings us, oddly, circuitously but certainly, to the subject of rice pudding.
what began as almost an afterthought at the grocery store, a last-minute swipe for some plastic-tubbed goo on the shelf, a goo labeled “rice pudding,” took on a bit of a life of its own. it started with an off-handed, “i wonder if you can make that” (for one of us grew up in a house in the space-age food revolution days when true kitchen liberation was found in the form of boxed mixes for everything, and scratch-cooking was so yesteryear; in the house where i grew up, brownies came from betty crocker’s red-spooned box, and not once did i witness rice stirred into pudding).
because one of us is in the business of gobbling down whatever is put before him, and another of us is especially in the business these days of reaching beyond the ho-hum, trying valiantly to infuse a touch of indulgence into the day, it became something of a quest in this old house to stir our way to rice pudding perfection. or, at least, a pudding sans gelatinous lumps, a pudding with just the right kiss of sweetness, a pudding so lick-your-lips-able that it might have you sneaking into the fridge in the wee, wee hours. a pudding with raisins, of course.
despite my protest and preferences, brown rice was immediately ruled out. forbidden, more like it. if this pudding was going to provide one ounce of comfort it was going to be washed out and white through and through. in a pinch, mark bittman (our go-to guy so very often, for he lures with his promise of “how to cook everything“) provided the road map: water; rice; salt; milk; sugar; cinnamon.
what resulted was soft, sweet, and passable. but that only taunted. we somehow locked onto the notion that what was needed was something spectacular. something so comforting it just might fill up every null and void, just might make us forget for one flash of a moment (as long as it takes to swallow a mouthful of pillowy softness) how hungry we were to get on with our once-ago lives….
and so the pudding trials commenced.
we sought out a coterie of experts: nigella lawson (she indulges with double cream, arborio rice, and muscat wine). the pioneer lady (she soaks her raisins in whiskey, for heaven’s sake, adds a splash of cream and — because she’s the pioneer lady — dollops a fat pat of butter). ina garten, aka the barefoot contessa (she takes it over the top with dark rum, basmati rice and — get this — 5 cups of half-and-half). we had ourselves a holy trinity of comfort makers, each with her own derivation.
and then, along came an heirloom from a friend, an unsuspecting formula for rice pudding confection. we knew it might be a winner as soon as we saw that the provenance was simply, “mother.” as in a nursery recipe passed from mother to daughter, one of the kitchen bequests that brings back whole moments in time, conjures up storybook scenes of kitchen comfort. that after-school moment when a pudding is spooned in a bowl, and along with fat grains of rice, afloat in a creamy perfection, there is a mother’s voice, soothing. perhaps even a hand rubbing the back, kneading the knots out of the shoulders clenched from a long day of worry or heartache.
that’s what an heirloom recipe does. that’s what comfort cooking is all about. it’s alchemy in its very best form: the power to heal, to chase away the blues, to restore your faith in the long days ahead.
here is my friend’s unadorned, utterly simple roadmap to rice pudding perfection:
Raisin Rice Custard
2 1/2-3 cups milk
2-3 T. sugar for each cup of milk (make as sweet as you like!)
1 t. vanilla
generous pinch of salt
1 cup or so cooked white rice (day old is best)
1 cup or so raisins
Scald the milk (heat slowly until little bubbles around edge of pan). Beat eggs lightly, add sugar and salt. Slowly add the scalded milk, stirring. Add vanilla and about 1/4 t. nutmeg.
Pour this mixture over the rice and raisins in a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake custard in a pan of hot water at 350 for 50-60 min. or until knife comes out clean.
and here is nigella’s (note: it’s written for cooking in merry old england; translation necessary):
Nigella Lawson’s Muscat Rice Pudding
“I am not suggesting that the basic, plain version of rice pudding is in any way deficient,” says Nigella, “but this muskily ambrosial version is mellow heaven. Perfect dinner-party comfort food.”
500ml whole milk
500ml double cream
50g unsalted butter
150g pudding or arborio rice
250ml muscat wine
50g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Fresh nutmeg to grate
Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2.
Combine the milk and cream. In a 1.5-litre, hob-proof casserole dish, melt the butter over a medium-low heat, add the rice and stir well to coat, then add the muscat. Stir well and let the syrupy liquid bubble away for a couple of minutes. Then pour in the milk and cream and add the sugar and salt, stirring as you do so. Bring it back to a gentle bubble, stir well again and grate over some fresh nutmeg.
Put in the oven and cook for 2 hours, stirring after the first 30 minutes. Check the dish after 11⁄2 hours – the depth of the dish and the nature of your oven may make a significant difference. The rice should have absorbed the liquid, but still be voluptuously creamy. Remove and cool for at least half an hour before eating.
what’s your roadmap to comfort on those days when you’re ground to the bone?
Wonderful. Thank you. And hope you’re doing well. (I assume your kiddo is longing for his first Kenyon springtime just as mine is. What a thing this is.) Mark Bittman did come through for us last night in the comfort department. Penne with Ricotta and Peas. Universal hit.
Ah! Good to know, and I will pull that fat yellow tome off the shelf, and seek the next installment in comfort cooking. A pediatric nurse friend of mine assured me lots of teens are finding it no small thing to be missing these chapters of their lives: high school graduations, proms, college life….
If we can offer any comfort is ANY form, spoonfuls or otherwise, I am all in!
Comfort food is one of my favorite subjects. This week, during the bi-monthly shop, we gathered the ingredients for lasagna. I won’t feel bad about my carb cravings these days. Homemade bread brings me so much joy these days too. Banana bread made with practically decomposing bananas for the best flavor, a crusty free-from bloomer loaf, 100% whole-wheat sandwich bread, quick English tea bread studded with dried apricots, yogurt flatbread, I’ve made them all. I’ve run out of commercial yeast, but thanks to a friend, I’ve got some sourdough starter feeding away on my counter now.
ivy! hello, beautiful! of COURSE you love comfort food, queen of comfort, you are. did you happen to see the NYT food story about the global lasagna dinner sunday night with the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook author and wonderful human being, Samin Nasrat? Check this out: and you can even catch a video of her making it. she is comfort squared. i think my very favorite cooks are the ones who draw us into their easy abundant welcome-ness. there must be a word, in some world language, for that draw-you-close-to-the-bosom sort of cooking hospitality, don’t you think?
oh, before i forget, here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/27/dining/samin-nosrat-lasagna.html
I wanted you to know that I LOVE getting your posts.
Rice pudding is one of my favorite dishes, it also reminds me of
We were on the same wing at O’Donnell and it always brightens
my day when I get your posts.
Jennifer Roche Sweeney
oh, dear gracious! this is certainly a heart-twittering note to find in the late morning mail. oh, wait, it’s afternoon already. time is an elastic thing these days. i am so delighted to know you are finding the chair, and pulling up a chair on friday mornings. O’Donnell was a thousand years ago wasn’t it, and so that makes our reconnection all the more miracle….bless you much, and thank you for letting me know you were here.
It’s taken me way too many “stay at home” weeks to be ready, but I am finally feeling whole enough to go out of my way for others again. I’m giving myself comfort in offering small kindnesses to family, friends & neighbors. Also, I’m slowing easing back into baking. Baking us the salve that heals me from big & small sadness.
and, oh, how i love that you are baking! it was a wholly soulful adventure to motor over to your house, await the paper sack of deliciousness delivered amid pup (and toddler) escape. and, oh, it fills me now….every morning.
there IS so much comfort in the giving. i think it’s taken many, many of us all these weeks to find anything resembling a rhythm, or sense of semi-wholeness. and soon as i feel it some days, it rushes away. a morning like this one, though, goes a long way.
maybe you could teach master classes — when all this is over. or, in the new lexicon of the moment, a ZOOM master class!
I so enjoyed seeing you at a safe social distance! And man. The toddler + dog escape pretty much sums up my life right now 🙂 Thank you for the beautiful splash of spring beauty that has been brightening our table since last week!!
I’m late to the table, but soups and baked pasta dishes are what’s brought us comfort over here. Plus there’s almost always leftovers and THAT brings me comfort on the next day.
Also I just read an article yesterday, that banana bread has been surpassing sourdough bread as the most popular recipe searched on Google. Apparently, it’s because so many super ripe bananas are to be found on kitchen countertops nationwide.
oh, yes, yes, i have those very bananas! i pop mine in the freezer and slice em like candy. i DO need to make me some nana bread. today teddy and i made the BEST sourdough pancakes out of his starter. i should post the recipe. stay tuned. teddy also named our starters today: mine is beatrice. his is george. we made them name tags. we feed them on saturdays. they bubble for us; most entertaining. not sure if bananas are ever so lively!
oops! forgot to post the fluffy sourdough pancakes recipe. here tis: https://www.theclevercarrot.com/2020/05/homemade-fluffy-sourdough-pancakes/
In my parent’s home, rice pudding was a cultural celebration of our Danish heritage. It was always a Christmas dessert of central importance. My mother (following her Danish mother-inn-law’s tradition) served it after Christmas dinner with a dollop of homemade cherry topping (think cherry pie). Before serving multiple generations gathered around the table, she secretly placed a number of whole almonds in the large bowl of pudding and then scooped it into bowls making sure it was all accounted for. Anyone who “found” a whole almond in their bowl was guaranteed a year of good health and luck and received an extra gift at the end of the celebration. It remains a delicacy of delight whenever it’s served especially now that both my mom and my grandmother are gone.
oh, dear gracious, i LOVE this! if i tell teddy a dollop of cherry topping is our next adventure he will leap over the moon! i love the tucking in of the almond. the world goes round and round, tied by these beautiful ribbons of tradition. this one is brand new to me. and i embrace it immediately….thank you……