The last time the bundle of yellowing letters had been sighted was years ago. But I knew they were somewhere, in some trunk, just not sure which trunk. Believe it or not, I have more than one scattered around the house as I have a weakness for used trunks spotted at flea markets, spurring fantasies of previous owners. At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, I haggled with a sweet man who was moving to Peru and was trying to sell all of his wares, amongst which a 1930’s beauty case in mint condition, perfume bottles and hair brushes et al, with the engraving “Lola Ford”. In my imagination, Lola Ford hailed to Los Angeles from Wisconsin, real name Shelly, with big screen ambitions who eventually settled for a moderately wealthy businessman, after a few roles as an extra on the Warner Lot. Be as it may, Lola Ford’s beauty set now lives forevermore in my bedroom.
But that is not where the stash of letters was. The frantic search was prompted by thoughts of rice pudding on an unusually rainy day. I can’t quite remember the last time it rained in Los Angeles in May but it did this year, filling me with yearning for rice pudding, one of the ultimate comfort foods.
I was a late comer to rice pudding, which I made for the first time in my late 20’s upon receiving a recipe from a former lover. Hence, the need to find the letters with the original recipe.
Maybe I should backtrack a little. Of course, I have made rice pudding countless times at this point and, more recently, I experimented with a baked variety, an in-breeding between rice pudding and flan which turned out disappointing and a far cry from my first rice pudding. Usually I don’t refer to a recipe for something that simple but, as with so many first food memories, M’s rice pudding stood above all others, even the sticky rice ones with mango I so love. And I had to find out whether the reality matched my memory.
When I first received the recipe, I started making it obsessively, probably fuelled by love, lust and a frantic life-style that didn’t allow for much home cooking. It was easy to make in large batches and call it dinner for days in a row. Then, when the love story was all over, so was my fling with the pudding.
I am glad e-mail was not in existence then because I would have deleted it in anger while today, at trunk number 3, I finally located the bundle of letters, buried under old journals and there, amid sweet words and dated photographs, was the recipe. These days, I would probably fancy it up with nuts, exotic fruit and savory combinations but I restrained myself and made it as I did the first time, all those years ago.
The verdict? Good enough to be the ultimate comfort food. Eaten while watching a British love drama on a stormy night, it might induce this girl to finish the whole pot. Which would be a disaster on the waistline…Better put letter and recipe away for another 20 years.
RECIPE – as originally sent to me
1 1/2 C partially cooked rice (short grain works better – that is my addition)
2 C whole milk (skim or low-fat is not rich enough, the author said)
1/4 C sugar (or 1/3 if you want it sweeter)
1/4 ts salt
1 egg (beaten)
2/3 C raisins, preferably golden
1 T butter
1/2 ts vanilla extract
cinnamon to taste
1. Mix 1 1/2 cup of the milk with the rice as it finishes cooking (I think he meant to add hot milk to the rice to finish cooking it). Add sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently – Don’t scorch the milk – 20/25 minutes or until thick and creamy.
2. Mix remaining 1/2 cup of milk with the egg, add to the rice, keep stirring. Add raisins.
3. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring constantly now. Add butter and vanilla.
4. Spoon into serving dishes and sprinkle with cinnamon
Options: serve with whipped cream or half and half or fresh grated lemon/orange zest