One of my rituals when I come home for the holidays is to look through my mother’s cookbook collection. It’s a marvelous one, and I am unabashedly envious. About five feet of countertop are lined with cookbooks of all kinds, cuisines, and degrees of dilapidation. Overflow volumes are stacked in drifts on top, and there are usually two or three newer books from the library to thumb through. I pore over old favourites and new acquaintances, flagging recipes I want to copy out and try back in Montreal.
This year I rediscovered, wedged underneath Savory Baking, The New Basics Cookbook, a misplaced sudoku book, and a stack of egg cartons being saved for seed-starting at the farm, a little journal, half-filled with hand-written recipes. On the fly-leaf was my name, along with the idiosyncratically capitalized information that it was begun Sixth of march, 2006.
I began the book when I was first beginning to experiment with cooking, full of excitement and a blinding array of pen colours. Family favourites appear alongside versions of desserts I’d adjusted to be sugar free. My younger self has left a variety of motherly annotations (Hot hot hot! Let sit 5 min before serving or you’ll burn yourself), anecdotes about what various family members say about a dish, and so forth. The occasional recipe is headed with a variation on the theme I made this recipe up all by myself, and it didn’t explode or anything!
The first original recipe in the book is 16. Rice Pudding, recorded for posterity on the fourteenth of August, 2006. I remember being fascinated with the concept of rice pudding. In spite of three of the four members of the household being British, we had never really had many puddings, aside from the essential Christmas Pud (to be ceremonially salted with sixpence and lit on fire). There was very occasional Spotted Dick, which my sister and I demanded after seeing Wayne Sleep in a pantomime one year. The show was Dick Whittington, and it must have been around 1999, though I can’t remember the theatre. A running gag in the pantomime involved Sleep’s character—decked out in a very frilly dress as the essential panto dame—trying to explain to the hapless hero what the pudding was. “It’s Spotted Dick, Dick.” “Spotted Dick Dick?” “No, Spotted Dick, Dick!”
Rice pudding, however, was a mystery, known only from Victorian children’s novels like What Katy Did, which describes it as something unimaginably awful and hated by all children who are not rotten goody two-shoeses. I’m not sure what possessed me to want rice pudding with this promising introduction. Perhaps I am, at heart, a rotten goody two-shoes?