What do kids today think about rice pudding? Real rice pudding. The kind made by mothers and grandmothers. The kind you can stand a spoon up in. Do kids today even understand what rice pudding has meant to a waning generation of children who were raised on pudding that did not come in a plastic cup or a cardboard box?
I make that statement with a certain air of nostalgia, though I admit the nostalgia is not my own. I was one of those kids that grew up on pudding that came in a box. A box with the bright red (all caps) JELL‑O logo. The pudding of my youth came in two colors: Brown and Yellow (I hesitate to even call them flavors, but technically they were chocolate and vanilla).
In my very young years these pudding boxes were prepared with milk heated on the stove. As a young cook my mom made JELL‑O pudding as a treat. By the time the 1970s were in full swing my mom had discovered Julia Child. JELL‑O pudding was banned in our house. However, my love of the stuff was already deeply ingrained. There was nothing my mother and Julia could do to dampen my desire for JELL‑O pudding.
This is also about the same time that JELL‑O introduced its instant varieties. Meaning even a shy boy could “cook” pudding all on his own. Just add milk, stir and chill. I was so enamored of the instant variety that I would often spend my allowance on the stuff. Though in hindsight I realize my fascination with pudding wasn’t because I loved the taste (I don’t remember it having any taste). Rather it was the joy I found in the “cooking” of the pudding (behind my mother’s back).
Even then I knew it was a forbidden thrill– a guilty pleasure. Little boys shouldn’t get thrilled by making pudding when nobody was looking. Little boys stole peeks at Playboy magazine and collected baseball cards with their allowances. The rules were clear– inedible pink bubblegum sticks for boys. Instant pudding and Easy-Bake Ovens for girls.
This bit of personal history is offered to highlight the fact that thick and creamy, melt in your mouth rice pudding is not something from my youth. Nope, the memory of that rice pudding is stolen from my partner Ken’s childhood. Because he had one of those grandmas who made rice pudding the old-fashioned way. Thick with rice and studded throughout with raisins. His grandmother’s rice pudding was just slightly sweet. It was made in one pot and plopped into bowls. Seconds (and thirds maybe) were not unheard of.
These days I know how much Ken loves rice pudding, and I’d love to make it for him. But he loves a certain style of rice pudding. A style that seems to be disappearing from our tables. Still, every once in a blue moon I try to make rice pudding for him. Old-fashioned rice pudding. Thick, creamy and sorta sweet (with raisins studded throughout). The kind of rice pudding you can stand a spoon up in. But once I get in the kitchen, that little boy’s adventurous love of cooking comes back to haunt me. Which means my rice pudding never comes out quite right for Ken. I just can’t help myself. I always tart in up in a way that seems foreign to the little boy in Ken who’s looking (again) for his grandma’s embrace. GREG