The Rice Pudding Connections

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

Children at Cornbread Suppers often head straight to the dish their parents brought, eager for a serving of a family favorite. So sweet!

I remember doing the same thing at church dinners as a kid, keeping my eye on Mother's made-from-scratch-with-homemade ketchup-and-home-smoked bacon-baked-beans. They were best when the top of the dish had turned black from hours in the oven.

On recent Monday nights, I have seen children making straight for their parents' rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, melon chunks, and, last Monday, Rice Pudding "Gonzo." I know this rice pudding, and the excellent cook who prepared it, and how good it is, from  earlier Cornbread Suppers. In fact, I asked for and received a link  to the recipe, and then posted that link as the only dessert so far in the tiny recipe section on the Cornbread Suppers blog.

An unexpected bonus of wonderful milk this week meant I could make Rice Pudding "Gonzo" today, something I had never done before. Reading the recipe reminded me that this rice pudding is special not only because it tastes (and feels) so comfortingly creamy and vanilla-y, and not only because it contains no disturbing raisins. (Yes!)

The "Rice Pudding 'Gonzo'" recipe packs meaning and memory for many. Gourmet magazine published the recipe in January, 2002, as a tribute to firefighters who died on 9/11. The headnote explains that the dish is named for Company 18 Firefighter Steve "Gonzo" Gonzalez.

I like the way the recipe's no-fuss instructions reflect a straightforward dish a fire station cook could stir occasionally while making the rest of a meal. I like the sense that cooking this recipe is an act of carrying on and connection to those who were lost on September 11, 2001, and those who mourn them.

Recipes can pack walloping emotions. This one speaks to me in a plain, determined voice, reminding me that ordinary people like me -- home cooks, fire station cooks, mothers and dads -- are at work caring for each other, cooking honest rice pudding, restoring the goodness that went out of our national life on an unbearable day in 2001.

White rice

White rice

The connective power of this recipe manifests in a different way as I consider the sources of the ingredients I am using: Kentucky, Japan, Vermont, Tahiti, Vietnam, and an unnamed salty ocean. This particular dish is a miracle of bringing the world's riches together with Kentucky's good milk, cream, and eggs. The harmony, the sweetness, and the ability to make something no one ingredient could produce alone are suggestive of what our public lives might be.

Right now, we humans are not all getting along, singing harmony, treating each other tenderly. But my sense is that we can do that. In fact, a lot of us have already turned off the television and talk radio and the online/in-print fear mongers. We are ready to cook some rice pudding together, or whatever it takes, and stop being so afraid of each other. It's harder to hate, and easier to connect, over a cutting board and a table of good food than any other way I know. In both small and great ways, I do believe food matters.

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 88.

116 World EQ Game Postrona