Tuesday, February 10, 2015

One Of The Best Things I Ever Ate

I’m pathetically proud to admit that when one of my kids asks me to pass the salt, I inquire, “What kind? Sea? Kosher? Pink Himalayan, perhaps?”

When a vinaigrette calls for oil, I wonder, Is this an occasion for a lemon-infused olive oil? California walnut oil perhaps? Or should I stick with extra virgin? 

I use soft winter wheat flour for biscuits, baby spinach for salads, and unsalted butter for, well, everything, because as previously noted, I’ve got gracious plenty salt – in shakers, grinders, cellars, and cunning little salt pigs with cunning little porcelain spoons. Why in the world would I cook with pre-salted butter?

Yes. I’m particular about ingredients. So it puzzles me to realize that I’m unsure of the ingredients in one of my favorite dishes. I’m unsure of the technique. Come to think of it, I’m unsure of the name.

Mom always called it “Milk Pudding,” but her parents and older brothers referred to it by a far less appetizing name: Thickening Milk. Hardly the menu description that gets mouths watering. But wait – there’s more. “Milk Pudding” – or whatever you call it – isn’t a dessert. And no, it’s not some high-falutin’ English pudding. From what I recall, it was butter and flour – or maybe milk and flour – stirred together into a super thick paste in a large skillet. Then, you’d stir in some milk and some sugar and a splash of vanilla. Again, though, not what you think. Are those lumps? Yes they are. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Creamy hot milky sweet goodness – with chewy lumps. Of flour. I think.

Despite the name, “Milk Pudding” was a dinner entrée. Sometimes served with a salty slice of ham.  And as I recall, Daddy never cared for it. It was a Mom specialty – passed down from her mom. I’ve never seen it in any cookbook or on any menu. Google searches – for “milk pudding” or “thickening milk” – turn up nothing. My best guess is it was one of the meals cooked in during the Depression – making due with cheap ingredients from the pantry.

Just milk, flour, sugar and vanilla. And maybe butter. The most basic of cooking ingredients. And one of the best things I ever ate.

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