Snow was a rarity on my grandmother's homestead, but warm memories of her kitchen aren't. In that kitchen she cooked and canned, every day and every season and sometimes all day, in a rhythm that understood and inhabited the grand poetry of the seasons but treated each day as the gift that it was, that it is. Springtime meant spring cleaning and sponge cake; summer meant cookouts and canning. Autumn meant mincemeat and roasted turkey and the holidays meant cookies and ham. And winter, whatever the weather, meant pancakes and home-baked bread and catching up on chores on days, rare as they were, that were too cold to venture far outside. Saturday was the busiest day of the week, as grandma's turn at the weekly church rummage sale started mid-morning with sorting tables of soft goods from pressed table linens for the home to corduroy jeans for the youngsters and didn't end until she had ladled out the last of the lunch-time barbeque from the communal pots in the kitchen.
On Saturday mornings, she didn't make a big breakfast - true to her schedule and to the times, that was saved for Sunday morning. Often we ate her apple granola. But if there was an extra bit of time or a grandkid that happened to be clamoring for it, she made rice pudding. Yes, you read that right: rice pudding for breakfast. As noted in numerous columns, including last November's Thanksgiving of acknowledgement for powerful mother figures, my grandmother was an extraordinary woman, and here was the proof, in a double-boiler.
That double boiler is the key to true grandma's kitchen pudding. If you've ever had the privilege of eating pudd'n from grandma's kitchen, it has ruined you for the gluey concoctions of the prepared foods aisle and the lunch line -- an accomplishment that, rightfully, grandma is proud of. With a double boiler, a body got a small amount of water to a good boil in the bottom chamber and then fitted the top chamber just above the boil line, so that the fresh, simple ingredients in the top chamber of the boiler cooked very hot but gently while being stirred attentively but not as if any of this labor was a big deal. The result was a pudding that was substantial and rich, not the foamy silk of the dessert cart or the heavy-handed custard of a rotation through the oven. My grandmother's rice pudding was soft and ploppy in bowls, served with butter and sugar on the table in case somehow the pudding wasn't rich or sugary enough.
My grandmother made butterscotch, banana and Indian pudding, but the specialty of the house was rice pudding. Unlike many of my grandmother's recipes that I replicate, this one is not exactly duplicative - because they are something of a rarity in the contemporary kitchen, this pudding is not made in a double-boiler. Take note, though: it could be. The technique that cannot be improved upon is cooking pudding stovetop. The rice takes a nice slow bath in a simmer of whole milk infused with pungent spices and warming vanilla. The rice turns silken but retains its toothsome quality, while the fragrant milk-spice bath fills the entire kitchen with the smells of a perfect childhood snow day. Many serve their rice pudding heaped diner style into parfait glasses and garlanded with whipped cream or meringue, but in our urban home, we serve rice pudding topped with a sparkly dusting of cinnamon sugar. And yes, we serve it for breakfast.
American long grain rice should be a staple in your urban pantry; click here for Urban Home Blog's Guide to the Home Pantry.
1 cup American long grain rice
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Measure the sugar and spices into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a wire whisk to mix the ingredients together.
- Measure one tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar into a small bowl and set aside.
- Measure the rice into the cinnamon sugar. Use the wire whisk to mix well.
- Carefully measure the milk into the rice-cinnamon sugar mixture.
- Measure the vanilla extract into the milk-rice mixture.
- Turn a burner to low. Place the pan on the burner and use the wire whisk to stir the mixture.
- Place the lid on the pan. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and very fragrant, approximately 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, use a teaspoon to test a bit of the pudding. It should be pleasantly sweet with rice that is cooked through but still chewy. If warranted, cook up to five minutes longer, adding up to 2 tablespoons more milk if the pan is running dry.
- Once the mixture is thoroughly cooked, break the eggs into a bowl. Use the wire whisk to beat the eggs until they are they are creamy with no visible yellow, clear or white streaks.
- Use one hand to continue whisking the eggs while using the other hand to use the teaspoon to drizzle some of the hot pudding mixture into the eggs. Work quickly and consistently in order to warm the eggs but not cook them. Continue tempering the eggs until the eggs turn thick and fragrant.
- Hold the bowl containing the egg mixture over the pan containing the pudding. Use your free hand to gently whisk the pudding mixture as you tilt the bowl so that the egg mixture goes into the pan in a thin, steady stream. Whisking as you go, the pudding should become very silken and fragrant.
- Use a silicon spatula to get the last of the egg mixture into the pan.
- Cook the pudding, stirring constantly, one minute.
- Turn off the burner and cover the pan. Allow to sit, undisturbed, five minutes.
- Remove the lid from the pan and stir the pudding. Use a heavy spoon to transfer the pudding to four serving bowls. Sprinkle the puddings with the reserved cinnamon sugar.
- Serve warm.