The comfort of pudding

When I was at chef school, a long time ago, we didn’t study puddings, we didn’t make puddings, and we didn’t eat them, not even in the privacy of our own kitchens, they were as we were told, “too homey,” which meant, too working class, unforgivably, thickened with cornstarch, and therefore, too common; dismissed as something that your grandmother used to make.  True enough, my grandmother did make puddings, chocolate and butterscotch, chocolate was my grandfather’s favorite, while I was and still am, a butterscotch girl.  Our puddings came out of a box, and were cooked on the stove, poured into little fruit nappies so that everyone got “skin.”  This eliminated the pudding skin skirmish that would always break out between my grandfather and myself; we both loved it.  With surgeon like precision he would carefully make an incision on the top and pour milk in, while I would use a fork, peel the skin off, and slurp it on one go.  My grandmother was not a pudding person, which was fine by us, the package made six little bowls, three each.

In high school,  when I no longer lived with my grandparents, but with my mother and stepfather, I discovered that pudding didn’t have to be made from a box and that it was easy to make yourself with ingredients  that you always had in the kitchen.  I became something of a pudding master. I was a strange kid (today we would say a unique individual) and high school was difficult terrain for me to man-oeuvre, I was by myself a lot, so I started to cook.  My mother had two cookbooks, The Five Roses Flour cookbook and the red and white checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  I read, planned fanciful dinner parties where the guest list included Peter Frampton, Elton John, Berni Taupin and my best friend Libby Wallis and I cooked  glamorous things like Swedish meatballs, cheese fondues in our avocado green fondue pot and crepes Suzette, which I didn’t like, too boozy.  But when I was really down, I made butterscotch pudding, I still do.  Comfort food to erase the rough edges of a difficult day.  Pudding is soul food, it’s hard to be cranky after eating a bowl of pudding.

I am always trying “new” recipes for puddings, especially caramel or butterscotch.  This caramel pudding recipe is from the original Five Roses Cookbook pub. in 1915, it has delicious deep caramel flavour, but it doesn’t set well, so sadly, no skin.  The quantity of milk to starch is too great, and then curiously there’s a single egg in in the recipe; I have cooked this pudding with the egg and without, it doesn’t make any difference.  The recipe calls for vanilla, but doesn’t say how much or when to add it, I added it at the end and used a teaspoon and despite the minimal direction, it is so absolutely perfect just off the stove; creamy, buttery, warm, soft and smooth, a pot of warm pudding and a spoon, guaranteed to make you feel better.  Pudding to me is my childhood; my grandparents and the little house where we lived with its small kitchen, no prep space  just a table. And that is MY pudding story.  I’ve come a long way on my food journey, many recipes, too many chefs and even more kitchens, but I’ve come home.

Caramel Pudding (as written in the cookbook)

1 quart milk

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons corn starch

Pinch of salt

1 egg

Small piece of butter

Vanilla

Put the butter and brown sugar in a pan to brown. In another pan heat the milk and when hot add the cornstarch dissolved in a little cold milk. add the browned sugar and the egg.  Cook until thick and set aside to cool. Serve with cream.

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