Tuesday 27 March 2012

Never Mess With a Girl's Tapioca!

I was an awkward little kid, in the literal sense of the phrase.  I was poorly coordinated.  I had a gift for finding sharp corners and edges with my elbows and knees, and I really was little. I was not only the youngest child in my grade, but by far the shortest.  I wore orthopedic shoes.  I was slightly cross-eyed, and terribly shy.  I shrank from attention and was embarrassed to be singled out in a group.

Naturally, I attracted a schoolyard tormentor.

My nemesis was a boy named Robert.  Tall and curly haired, he delighted in teasing the school weaklings.  He targeted me and I—lacking in the confidence to stand up to him and make a snappy comeback—provided exactly the reactions he sought.  I was often red faced and tongue-tied.  Sometimes I cried.

Even though I didn't confide it, my mom—bless her heart—knew that something was troubling me.  She tried to make my days a little better by sending me to school with special treats.  She tucked little notes with funny illustrations into my lunchbox and at least once a week she would provide a small, wide mouthed thermos bottle filled with tapioca pudding.  She knew it was my favourite.

It didn’t take long, of course, for Robert to cotton on to what these special treats meant to me.  He would go into my lunchbox at recess time and steal the notes, reading them aloud to his chums in a sing-song voice that carried clear across the school yard.  He and his buddies would surround my desk while I ate my pudding, making gagging noises and shouting "Eww! Fish eyes!' until I became so upset and embarrassed I couldn't swallow.

I stopped bringing my treat out at lunchtime.  Instead, on the way home, I would walk several blocks out of my way and sit on the swings at our neighbourhood park, savouring my pudding in solitary splendor.  I was sometimes chastised for coming home late, but the scolding was worth the peace and quiet in which I enjoyed my tapioca treat.

Then, one afternoon, Robert followed me to the park.  He snuck up behind me and scared me so badly that my thermos went flying from my hands, spilling my pudding on the ground and breaking the thermos liner into a thousand silver-coloured shards.

I was furious!  I stood up from the swing, grabbed my metal lunch kit and, without a moment’s thought or hesitation, bashed my tormentor squarely in the side of the head.   He howled and then ran off, leaving me alone.

I gathered up my broken thermos, put it in my dented lunch kit, and headed home to face the music. I fully expected to catch it for the damaged goods I was returning.  Oddly though, my mother didn't remark upon the thermos or the lunch box at all.  She told me years later that she felt I’d probably sorted things out myself, and she noted that I was never late coming home from school again!

I’m not telling you that what I did was right. Looking at it from the safe distance of the second half of my life, I realize that Robert probably envied me.  He came from a large and very poor family, and probably never in his entire childhood saw either the luxury of a thermos full of pudding or the kindness and love demonstrated in those hand drawn notes.

What I am telling you is that you should never EVER get between a girl and her tapioca pudding!  ;)

To make tapioca pudding, you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup pearl tapioca
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest or 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used orange zest this time.)

Put the tapioca in a jar with a lid and pour in the milk.  Let it soak in the fridge overnight.

Transfer the tapioca  and milk to a casserole with a lid and mix in the salt.  The milk will boil up as it cooks so be sure to use a casserole that can accommodate at least twice the volume of the pudding. 

Bake the pudding in a 300˚F oven for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally, The tapioca is cooked when it becomes translucent and has a soft texture. 

Beat together the egg and the sugar.  Temper it by spooning hot pudding into the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until the temperature of the egg is raised to slightly above lukewarm.

Whisk the warmed egg mixture into the tapioca-milk mixture and stir in whichever flavouring you wish to add.

Cover the casserole again and return it to the oven for five to ten minutes more.

Remove the finished pudding from the oven and transfer it into individual bowls.  Cover the individual puddings with plastic wrap, ensuring that the plastic is sitting directly on the surface of the pudding.  This will help to prevent a skin from forming on top.

Allow the puddings to cool to room temperature, and then transfer them to the fridge to cool completely.  You can serve tapioca pudding plain, or garnish it with a little jam or whipped cream.

A few  notes:

You can cook the pudding in a double boiler if you prefer not to put it into the oven.  I cook it in the oven because it requires less supervision. 

I put a pan on the oven rack beneath the pudding to catch any drips of milk that might boil over.

The casserole ends up looking like a big mess with all the cooked on milk but it’s actually pretty easy to clean.  The milk will soak off.  Just put the casserole and lid into a sink full of warm soapy water and walk away for a couple of hours.  Once the milk has softened it can be easily scoured off with a plastic pot scrubber.