I spent this week at home with my youngest daughter, the poor thing a cuddly little ball of misery and sick. If childhood illness were a professional sport, she’d have been a lottery pick: ear ache, fever, gravelly cough, the inevitable avalanche of snot – like a highly regarded point guard, she had the complete package. The good news is, she’s feeling much better, and we spent lots of time together. Principally, this meant that I watched her, while she watched cartoons – I’m still trying to extract an ear worm from Dora the Explorer – but it also meant that we got to cook together. When you’re a sick kid, you need comfort, and what’s more comforting than pudding? Unfortunately, ours sucked like the Federal government at tax time, so we’re asking BiteClubbers for help.
But first, let’s talk about pudding. It may be unrepentantly trashy, but personally, I can’t get enough of the stuff, especially the old-fashioned, glossy, starch- and gelatin-based sort. Growing up, my absolute favorite treat was the original Snack Pack – are you old enough to remember those stubby little beer cans full of pudding, the ones with the highly questionable pop-top design? (Really, who puts metal pop-tops on a kid’s snack? The 1970s, that’s who.) For all I know, that pudding actually tasted like the synthetic, gelatinous goo it probably was, but get enough drinks in me, and I’ll still wax lyrical about a plastic vat of Kozy Shack to this very day.
In any case, the inimitable Miss M. and I decided to try our hand at home-made pudding, a sort of toddler-friendly version of chicken soup. It’s important that you know that I don’t, as a rule, do desserts; with the notable exception of my wife’s pies, I just don’t care for sweets, and more fundamentally, pastry, broadly construed, is ill-suited to my kitchen: I like to measure by handfuls and pinches, and I follow recipes like I drive, fast and with only the vaguest sense of direction, either of which would sink a pastry chef faster than a bag of rocks.
So, knowing the odds were against us, we dutifully cross-referenced the Joy of Cooking with American Cookery, we dropped by Wyeth Acres for fresh eggs and milk, we scraped seeds from whole vanilla beans, and we cobbled together a make-shift bain-Marie. We tempered our eggs; we stirred ceaselessly over a bare simmer. And for all of that, we ended up with a beautifully-flavored, but thoroughly inedible mess. As my wife succinctly noted, “it looks like Cream of Wheat”, and she was right: our sadsack pudding was a thick, grainy sludge, with a cloying sweetness and an oppressive texture, an entirely flawed and altogether disgusting dessert.
How could we take something so deceptively simple, follow the rules so seemingly carefully, using such good ingredients, and end up with such swill? If you have a tried-and-true recipe for old-fashioned pudding, please send it in, my daughter and I will cook it, and I’ll post the results right here on Bite Club.