Tapioca pudding was a treat that we had only once a month or so when I was growing up. The entire family loved the stuff, so I don’t know why we didn’t have it more often. My guess is that tapioca was expensive, so we had to make do with milk puddings like blancmange or baked custards, fruit cobblers, pies, cakes and cookies. A limited range of desserts, you might say, but we survived. Still, I would have liked more tapioca.
As I recall my mother’s tapioca pudding looked like it had small marbles in it. They reminded me of the rubbery jello on the sides of the bowl, and I loved chewing them in my mouth as I ate my bowl of pudding. These small marbles are called “large pearl” tapioca.
I don’t know if that was the only kind of tapioca sold in the grocery stores where Mom shopped, but today “small pearl” tapioca is what is usually available. Here’s how to make this light and delicious pudding.
1/2 cup pearl tapioca
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of cream of thartar
The night before or at least six hours before making the pudding, put two cups of water and the tapioca to soak in a medium-sized bowl.
When you are ready to make the pudding, put the milk into a double boiler over high heat and drain the tapioca. When the milk is warm, stir in the salt and tapioca and continue to heat until the milk begins to steam. Reduce the heat to very low and cover the pan, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Be sure not to boil the mixture.
While the pudding is cooking, allow two large eggs to come to room temperature. Separate them and beat the yolks until they are lemon colored. Add most of the sugar to the egg yolks, reserving one or two tablespoons to beat into the whites. Beat the yolks and sugar into a smooth batter.
Take the double boiler from the heat while you beat in about a half cup of the hot mixture into the eggs yolks, a tablespoon at a time. Beat the eggs briskly with a fork or small whisk while you dribble in the hot liquid to keep from curdling the eggs. Now beat the eggs into the hot mixture and return the double boiler to medium heat. Stir constantly until the pudding once again begins to steam and continue cooking until the pudding is very thick.
Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them until they form soft peaks. Now add the reserved sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. The whites will glisten like meringue.
Take the pudding from the double boiler and allow it to cool for a minute or so, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Gently stir in the vanilla. Return the pudding to the double boiler over moderate heat and cook for two or three minutes.
Serve it warm or cold.
NOTES: Tapioca is made from the root of the cassava plant, which is native to Brazil. The root contains a poison which needs to be removed before the starchy part is edible. The indigenous people of the South America had learned how to do this long before European explorers reached South America.
By grinding up the root and squeezing out the juice they leached away the poison. They then dried the pulp to make a starchy powder that was an excellent food that could be made into bread immediately or stored for use as needed.
Today tapioca is used for many different dishes around the world from main courses like meat stews to snacks, sandwiches and a wide variety of desserts. Though I have never tasted it, bubble tea is a recent addition to tapioca recipes. It is basically a sweet tea with large pearl tapioca floating in it that you nibble on as you drink your tea.
You can buy large pearl tapioca at some stores or from online vendors. One of these days I am going to make a tapioca pudding just like Mom used to make, so I can chew on those rubbery pearls. You might want to try it too.