My aunt and uncles gave me all the A.A. Milne books when I was small, including, besides the Pooh stories, two collections of poems for children, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. These had illustrations by Ernest Shepard (whose original Pooh drawings were so much nicer than the later Disney ones.) One in particular fascinated me. It pictured a very cross little girl in a highchair, scowling and kicking off her shoe. I was intrigued by the depiction of naughtiness, which was always a bit thrilling to me as a kid, but I was also puzzled . The poem that went with the picture asked, "What is the matter with Mary Jane? She's perfectly well, and she hasn't a pain, And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again." What was the matter with her, and why did she not realize her good fortune?
I have always loved rice pudding- I'm pretty sure I've never been served one I didn't like, though some have been better than others. Before she inexplicably gave up cooking completely, my mother did a very nice party version. The rice was long cooked in milk and egg yolks, spread with jam and topped with a meringue made from the whites, which was a pretty golden brown. My friend E. makes a really good more austere one, warm and comforting, from an old edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I have had some yummy rich rice puddings in Italian restuarants, too.
Recently, a lovely purple rice pudding made from special Burmese rice, appeared in the wonderful Cook's Cottage.It caught my eye, and sent me looking for different rices. ( It also convinced me that all rice puddings should be made with a few cardamom pods, which are a perfect mild mannered flavor enhancer for sweetened rice. )
So I wound up with Carolina Gold Rice from Anson Mills to try. This rice has a fascinating history, well worth reading about. Unlike some fancy basmati rices, which are aged to achieve the best flavor, Carolina Gold is expressly a "new crop" rice. This basically means that is at its best when fresh, and you must keep it in the freezer to prevent deterioration. Having already been impressed with Anson Mills cornmeal, I got some of the rice and made my current favorite rice pudding from it.
With most of my longtime favorite dishes, I have a pretty well established version that I've honed in on over the years, and make regularly, with minor variations. Not so rice pudding. I am always trying different ones, and though I may settle on one for a time, I'm always susceptible to a new, appealing rice pudding recipe.
Currently, I am favoring the following very simple pudding, which sort of crosses the Cook's Cottage one with a version from Paula Deen, of the Food Network. David Lebovitz's excellent and simple Dulce de Leche recipe encouraged me to push the condensed milk a bit, too. I like this one unmolded upside down, with a bit of fruit and syrupy stuff on. Here, I'm using my Nightingale with Prunes, but a
bit of nice loosely jelled jam would be dandy too, or whatever you like, really.
This is what I used to make 3 generous servings:
1/2 cup Carolina gold rice, rinsed
1 1/2 cups boiling water
pinch sea salt
3 cardamom pods
handful golden raisins
7 oz (1/2 14 oz can) sweetened condensed milk
Butter three 8 oz dishes. Put the rice, salt, boiling water, cardamom and raisins in the top of a double boiler over boiling water. Cover, turn heat low, and cook about 20 minutes, until almost all the water is absorbed. Add the condensed milk, and cook, stirring frequently with a fork (fluffing, really) over a really low heat (it can take a long time- 20-30minutes) until it is thickened and starting to go a little beige. Remove top of double boiler, and cover. Leave for 5 minutes. Spoon into buttered dishes. Cool on counter, then cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in fridge. This will keep a couple of days. Unmold right before serving, and add something damp, sweet and fruity. This is awfully nice, I think, and has just a hint of a caramel taste. The rice is too soft to be chewy, but has not turned to mush.
I still have some Carolina Gold Rice, and plan to use it in some other ways, too. In fact, I'm impatiently waiting for a book I ordered, The Carolina Rice Kitchen:The African Connection, by the excellent Karen Hess, which is about the social history of this American cuisine, and includes a facsimile of a period rice cookbook. So you can see exactly the sort of thrill seeker I am. My idea of a good time is lying on the sofa with a cat, reading this. I can hardly wait.