I don’t like instant pudding.
I grew up a child of the 1970s. Born in 1967, I came into awareness as a consumer of food products at a time when instant pudding was not yet the behemoth of the colloidal world as it is today. My mother frequently prepared Jell-O brand pudding in green glass stemmed dessert bowls (which I would give a great deal to have a set of, even though I don’t and won’t have children of my own to pass them on to) and there was nothing quite so elegant and satisfying as stabbing a spoon into the rubbery surface of a bowl of pudding and coming up with a tasty divot of flavor, entirely devoid of nutritive value.
There’s something about the consistency of cooked pudding that you just don’t get from instant pudding. Instant pudding strikes me as somewhat slimy. A bit grainy, too… no matter how long you shake/stir/agitate the pudding mix in the milk, it never entirely loses touch with its powdered origin. But cooked pudding — creamy, tasty, smooth, and prone to form that nice trampoline-like top if left alone in the refrigerator for a couple of days — that’s the real deal.
I hardly ever make pudding these days, and when I do, I’m ashamed to admit that more often than not it’s the instant kind. That’s what Carole likes — it’s proof that you can be trained to like pretty much anything if they get to you early enough in childhood — and the sugar-free Jell-O chocolate fudge instant pudding is just chocolaty enough to satisfy her sweet tooth.
But now and then, I do make real pudding — and by ‘real’ I mean ‘completely artificial’, packaged in a box and laden with chemicals that Marie Curie wouldn’t even recognize — but, and this is the important thing, always the cooked kind. Carole doesn’t have much use for it, so that simply means ‘more for me’.
Once in a while I get really fancy and make completely homemade egg custard, sometimes with coconut, sometimes without. Carole didn’t grow up eating that either, so she tends to have one or two ramekins and then leave the rest for me.
Carole’s mom was not the most inventive cook, which means Carole grew up with fairly simple tastes in food. My mom, living as she did in a university town in the 1970s, was exposed to every weird recipe that the various university wives inflicted on one another at book group, and she carefully saved the most unusual and strange for us. Mom was a great cook — except when she got the urge to try out a recipe, and then we were compelled to eat it, no matter how bizarre or unusual the product was. I still shudder at the memory of her ratatouille, and don’t even get me started on tomato aspic.
But she did a great job on custard. She always used a certain set of brown stoneware ramekins and I was happy to find a set of my own when I looked around on eBay a few years ago. They don’t get used every day — more like twice a year, if that — but when I get them out and mix up some custard, the end result just says “home” to me.