Next month, the husband and I will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary.
In all those years, plus the four years we dated, I often heard stories of his grandmother's and his great aunt's rice pudding.
From the time I was a newlywed, I tried to make rice pudding equally as good as he and his older sister described. While he complimented my rice pudding, which was simply baked rice custard with cinnamon sprinkled on top, it still never compared to the rice pudding "Gram" and "Aunt Liddy" used to make.
Creamy rice pudding was a different recipe than I was used to making. While I previously made rice pudding as a custard and baked it in a bain-marie in the oven, this was a stove top method. I soon realized this recipe wasn’t a custard at all, but a creamy cooked pudding with rice.
"I remember she cooked it on top of the stove," the husband said. "She didn't bake it in the oven."
Yet all of the recipes I found were oven-baked. Custard, after all, is baked in either individual ramekins or casserole dishes set in what I knew as a bain-marie, a pan of hot water. At least that's what all of the books said. But Gram and Aunt Liddy didn't follow the recipes in the books. Their rice pudding recipe came from their heads, and no one knows for sure who had the recipe first.
My mother never made rice pudding, so until I met the husband, it wasn't a dish I was familiar with. My family, decendants of British immigrant farmers, came to Northeast Ohio from southern Pennsylvania in the early 1950s where work in the factories was plentiful. But the husband's family, on his mother's side, although they also came from Pennsylvania to work in the factories, were from Pottsville, the county seat of Schuylkill County northwest of Philadelphia. Schuylkill County has a large Pennsylvania Dutch influence and this is where our backgrounds differ.
Creamy Rice Pudding
From the kitchens of Helen and Lydia Davis
1 cup rice
1 quart milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 quart and 1 pint water (48 ounces)
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cinnamon for sprinkling on top. (I took the liberty of adding a little freshly grated nutmeg as well).
Combine the rice, milk, evaporated milk, water, butter and salt in a large saucepan. Boil the mixture for one hour on medium heat, stirring often the first 30 minutes and near constantly the last 30 minutes or until the pudding is of the right consistency.
Remove from the heat. To the beaten eggs, add about two tablespoons of the hot pudding and whisk until blended before adding them to the pudding. Add the sugar and vanilla. Stir until blended.
Pour the pudding into a large bowl or individual serving bowls and sprinkle the top with cinnamon.
Store in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on top of the pudding.
Helen Davis and Lydia Davis were sisters-in-law. Both made rice pudding when my husband and his older sister were young and both remember it well. And then a couple years ago, my husband brought home a yellowed note with a recipe written on it.
"This is Aunt Liddy's rice pudding recipe," he said. It even had her name, "Aunt Lydia" on the bottom of the note.
I put the paper in a safe place but quickly forgot about it and ended up never trying it out. And then a few days ago, he brought home a recipe card from his mother and said, "This is Gram's rice pudding recipe."
We compared the two recipes to find they were exactly the same.
It was obvious that one got the recipe from the other, but no one in the family knows who had it first.
The recipes are quite simply written. Most of the ingredients are measured, except for "1 lump butter." I guessed and used four tablespoons. Looking to duplicate the recipe the husband remembered, I used whole milk rather than the 2-percent we normally buy.
The instructions are to "boil one hour." I've cooked enough to know that hot milk can burn easily and there were no stirring instructions. After literally watching the pot, I found I could stir occasionally for the first 30 minutes. As the mixture thickened, I had to stir much more often to keep the pudding from sticking and burning to the bottom of the pot. I also kept adjusting the flame on my gas stove to keep the pudding from boiling too rapidly. By the last 10 minutes I was stirring continuously.
I'm sure Gram and Aunt Liddy knew just by looking at the pudding when the consistency was right, but I had to guess. The husband reminded me the pudding dries out a bit when it cools, so I left it a little creamy before taking the pot off the stove. Stoves differ, especially electric versus gas, but the one hour recommended time on the recipe was just long enough.
After taking the pot off the heat, the recipe says to add sugar, vanilla and eggs. It doesn't specify that the eggs should be beaten first, but I assumed it was understood.
Another cooking tip I've learned over the years is when eggs are added to a hot mixture, they need to be tempered first to avoid ending up as scrambled eggs. I doubt the two women did this, knowing just how to stir in the eggs their own way, but to be safe, I whisked a couple tablespoons of the hot pudding into the beaten eggs to bring their temperature up before I poured them into the pot.
As I stirred in the sugar and vanilla, the aromas coming from the pudding filled my kitchen with a sweet fragrance.
I see now that I was completely wrong about my husband's family rice pudding. It was not a custard at all, but a cooked pudding with rice, creamy and sweet, and the perfect comfort food for a small boy, his big sister and just about everyone else.