Put on your best bib, grab a spoon, and dig into some homemade tapioca pudding. 🙂
I LIKE TAPIOCA
by Bill Batcher
I like even the word "tapioca."
It sounds like the name of a Latin dance,
the beat of the Samba underscoring
the ritual movements of some Amazonian tribe.
"Come, let's do the Tapioca."
Or it could be the local indigenous name
of a tributary of the congo
the newsman Stanley hoped would
bring him closer to Dr. Livingstone.
"This is the Tapioca, I presume."
Or even a tropical insect,
whose bite transmits a lethal disease,
while its genes contain the secret
to conquering the riddle of aging.
"Tapioca face cream, $26.59 a jar."
Yet tapioca is more than these: A confection that puts a spring in my step, takes my spirit to worlds unknown, and renews my youth, when I loved those gelatinous pearls -- even when told they were frog eyes -- the bigger, the better. Where is it from? There's the mystery, unlike the rice pudding they try to pawn off on me instead.
You may remember that we are big pudding lovers in our house. Len continues to eat it with the smallest spoon he can find. He doesn’t care if it’s a doll’s spoon or a souvenir spoon from Omaha. He just wants his smooth, sweet treat to last as long as possible, tiny blob by tiny blob.
Though we’ve been known to dally with plain vanilla and chocolate pudding from time to time, tapioca remains our all time favorite. There’s just something about those bumps. And we’re happy to eat it no matter the prep method — totally from scratch using tapioca pearls (requires pre-soaking), with Minute Tapioca, or even using Jell-O™ Cook and Serve powdered mix (just add milk). Yes, it’s all good.
Since these are definitely times that try men’s souls, what better way to cope than with comfort foods — the dishes our mothers and grandmothers made that evoke fond childhood memories, making us feel safe and loved.
I admit that when my mom first made us tapioca, I was very suspicious of those “frog eyes” Batcher mentions in his poem. I soon got over that, though, and like him, have always liked the word ‘tapioca,’ since it’s fun to play with possible meanings (the word actually comes from “tipi-óka,” which translates as ‘sediment’ or ‘coagulant’ in Tupí, the language spoken by natives when the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil back in 1500).
You probably know tapioca is a starch extracted from the roots of the cassava plant, which is native to Brazil, but widely used throughout South America, the West Indies, Africa and Asia. It’s available as flour, flakes, or pearls, and though it’s mainly carbs with low nutritional value, it’s quite versatile as an ingredient in breads, snacks, bubble tea, or as a thickener in soups or desserts.
But back to the pudding. Yes, please! We must have some now. Do you like Minute Tapioca? I only learned recently that a Boston housewife invented it.
Susan Stavers, who was also a landlady, apparently served some tapioca pudding to a sailor who complained about it. He didn’t like her coarse, lumpy version, proclaiming South Seas pudding far superior.
Well, Susan wasn’t going to stand for that. Intent on a smoother, tastier pudding, in 1883 she decided to put some cassava root through her coffee grinder, producing small, translucent nodules. Her neighbors liked the pudding it made, so Susan began selling the ground stuff door-to-door in brown paper bags.
In 1894, she sold the rights to her process to John Whitman, a publisher and grocer from Orange, Massachusetts. He began producing the ground cassava in an old shoe factory, first selling it as Tapioca Superlative before renaming it Minute Tapioca. He also went on to publish a book of tapioca recipes, eventually selling his Minute Tapioca business to Postum Cereal (1926), which became General Foods several years later.
Part of what makes tapioca (or any cooked pudding, for that matter), a coveted dessert is that it takes time and patience to make it on the stove — that continual stirring on medium heat till the mixture comes to a full boil, being careful not to burn the bottom. Oh, the anticipation! And if you prefer your pudding chilled, you have to refrigerate it until it’s set.
Now, after learning all about Minute Tapioca, I was all set to make some. But I couldn’t find any. Very strange, since it had always been easy to get from almost any grocery store.
Thinking it was temporarily out of stock due to the pandemic, I waited awhile. Well, after six months, still no luck — none could be found in the stores or online (unless you wanted to pay some ridiculous jacked up price).
Seems there’s a Minute Tapioca shortage right now due to a drought and yes, the pandemic, which is slowing down production.
What to do? Resourceful Mr Cornlieus suggested we try another brand — Let’s Do Organic, available at Whole Foods and several online places.
So we used the organic granules in our favorite tapioca recipe — and voilà! Delicious results!
Whether you’re able to find Minute Tapioca or not, just know that Let’s Do Organic is just as good, if not better (but don’t tell Susan Stavers or John Whitman). 😀
Don’t be surprised if after making this, you find yourself Latin dancing around the kitchen or channeling Henry Morton Stanley. Your family will love hearing you say, “This is the tapioca, I presume,” before gobbling it all up — unless like Len, they prefer to eat it with teensy spoons. 🙂
- 2-3/4 cups 2% reduced fat milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons Minute Tapioca
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Mix milk, sugar, tapioca and egg in medium saucepan. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, Stir in vanilla. Cool 20 minutes, stir. Serve warm or chilled (pudding thickens as it cools). For creamier pudding, place plastic wrap on surface of pudding while cooling. Stir before serving.
Mix milk, sugar, tapioca and egg in bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Microwave on high 10-12 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla and cool.
~ from My Food and Family/Kraft Heinz
The wonderful and talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup at her blog. Take her a dish of pudding, dance the Carioca with her, then check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. As always, stay safe, keep strong and healthy, wear your mask, and enjoy the weekend. 🙂
*Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.