There were certain things I could count on when I was growing up in the ’40’s and ’50s (Yes, I’m really that old!). In fact, it was absolutely predictable that a few days before Dad got paid, the family menu was mainly bologna, scrambled eggs, grits, and morning coffee made from yesterday’s already-been-brewed grounds.
But then came the Sunday night after payday, and we feasted on celebration food of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green peas. Mom thought it was “cute” to put a big dent in my mashed potatoes and then place in the peas to resemble a bird’s nest.
The piece de resistance was Mom’s made-from-scratch nut cake or better yet, her chocolate pudding. Made from grandmother’s recipe, it consisted of milk, heavy cream, sugar, Hershey’s cocoa, cornstarch, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. It was carefully cooked in a pot over low heat with constant stirring. The process, which took half an hour or more, was as delicate a procedure as open heart surgery. If the heat was too high, or the stirring was not faithful, the mixture would stick to the pot, and brown nasty lumps would bubble to the surface. The accompanying smell of burned chocolate was a dead giveaway that we would be having a can of fruit cocktail for dessert that night.
Ah, but when it was good, it was very, very good. Mom would top each dish of the divine stuff with her version of Cool Whip made by whipping frozen condensed milk with lots of sugar. As proof of the pudding, we would insert our spoons vertically into the middle of it. If the spoon stood upright on its own, the pudding was perfect.
It was also a character lesson for me, learning to accept the bad with the good, and I quickly realized that God did not intend for humanity to always have perfect pudding.
Pondering this epiphany, I have concluded that His children are not guaranteed perfection in any aspect of our journey through this life.
Another character lesson resulted from the Sunday night I was allowed to make the pudding. Since company was coming, I tried my best to achieve the elusive perfection that danced capriciously around the making of dessert. I thought I’d been successful, even though the spoons leaned a bit in the middle of the concoction, and it wasn’t as smooth as it should be. But when a guest spit out a lump of congealed egg yolk, I knew I had failed and was inconsolable. I learned from this experience that adults lie outrageously when they’re trying to fluff up a child’s self-esteem.
And, in spite of all assurances that the dessert was good, I knew it was awful.
I know now that good and bad puddings teach valuable life concepts. Waiting for the outcome to see if it was edible taught me hope and patience. Seeing it thrown into the trash taught me how to deal with disappointment. Seeing the spoon stand upright taught me the joy of victory for those times when things turn out well.
Then, Mom lost the recipe and discovered Jello instant pudding. My little world of character-building experiences abruptly changed.
We could now open a box, pour powder into a bowl and add milk. In five minutes, instant gratification. It was convenient, reliable, consistent in quality, creamy, chocolaty, mess free, and minus the top skin. But it failed the spoon test, the ultimate proof of the pudding. It lacked integrity. And, worse, in its ho-hum predictability, it was devoid of the mystique intrinsic to the cooked recipe. My family soon grew tired of it, and it disappeared from the Sunday night table.
To this day, I don’t care much for instant pudding, and even if it’s banana flavored with vanilla wafers and sliced bananas, it still isn’t banana pudding.
It’s about human endeavor and diligence. In the era before instant pudding, canned biscuits, microwave meals, and “just add water,” Mom would tell me “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” The elderly knight Don Quixote in Cervantes’ 17th century novel knew the truth of real versus unreal (or cooked versus instant), when he declared “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
One taste of something authentic is usually all that’s necessary to remind us of what we’ve sacrificed to convenience.
The pudding is allegory.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.