~Tapioca Pudding: Just like Grandma used to make!~
Tapioca (tap-ee-oh-kuh). You've seen it in your grocery store. Perhaps you keep a some form of it in your pantry. Tapioca is a starch commonly used as a thickener, and, because it was a staple in my grandmother's and mother's pantries, it is in mine too. My grandmother used tapioca powder to thicken jelly, quick-cooking tapioca granules to thicken pie fillings, and whole tapioca pearls to make one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts: tapioca pudding!
A bit about tapioca: The name tapioca comes from the South American, Brazilian Tupi name "tipi-oka", which means "starch". Tapioca doesn't grow on trees like fruit or in the garden like vegetables. It is extracted from the root of the shrub-like cassava plant (also known as manioc) via a complex process that leaches out the toxins (cyanide) to get to the usable starch.
The starch is then processed into several forms: powder (flour), granules (flakes) and balls (pearls), with stick form being the least common in the USA.
Cassava is native to South America and the Caribbean, but is grown worldwide, with Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand being three of the biggest producers. Many cultures, including us in the US, have adopted tapioca for culinary use in their own cuisine. After rice and maize, cassava is the world's largest gluten-free source of food carbohydrates (it's basically pure starch), but, sadly, because it contains no protein or other nutritional value, this is problematic in countries with malnurished populations that rely upon tapioca as a hunger-statisfying staple.
The flavor is neutral, which makes tapioca powder (pictured here in the bag and sometimes marketed as tapioca flour or tapioca starch) and tapioca granules (which I purchase in quick-cooking or instant form) a great thickener for both sweet and savory foods.
If a recipe instructs you to soak tapioca in water prior to cooking it, do it without question. Upon soaking or cooking, tapioca rehydrates (absorbes liquid) and doubles in size. Upon cooking, soaked or unsoaked tapioca turns translucent.
Soaking or not soaking directly affects how long the tapioca will take to cook and how much liquid it will absorb from the mixture it is being cooked in.
Draining and/or rinsing will remove some of or all of the starch. This determines how much the tapioca will thicken the mixture it is being added to and cooked in.
Is this rocket science?
Well, in a way, yes it is.
Follow the recipe instructions!!!
A bit about instant "minute" tapioca: As per the MINUTE Tapioca company, tapioca pudding was born in 1894 in the kitchen of Susan Stavers. Mrs. Stavers, a Boston housewife who took in boarders for extra cash, took in an ailing sailor who had brought some cassava roots from his journeys. Hoping to soothe the sailor's upset stomach, she made a sweet, delicious pudding from the roots. To create a smoother consistency, Stavers took the sailor's suggestion and processed the roots through a coffee grinder. The pudding turned out smooth, and Susan received rave reviews from her other boarders. Soon, Stavers began regularly grinding tapioca, packaging it in paper bags and selling it to the neighbors. John Whitman, a newspaper publisher, heard of Susan's process and pudding, bought the rights to Susan's recipe, and, the MINUTE Tapioca Company was born. It became part of General Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods in 1989!
Is my Grandmother's recipe special? Yes, it is special to me!
Is her recipe unique to the culinary world? I am not sorry to report it is not. It is quite ordinary, which is why I love it so much. Without exception, my grandmother followed the recipe on the back of a box of small pearl tapioca. Of course I've experimented with "jazzing" it up a bit, especially when I want to serve a dessert that represents and complements a tropical theme. If this idea appeals to you: substitute coconut milk in place of milk, vanilla beans scraped from 1 whole pod instead of vanilla extract, some lime zest, plus, a shot or two of coconut-rum!
Make a memory -- make tapioca pudding for your family today!
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (almond extract or coconut extract are nice substitutions)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
~ Step 4. Briefly remove tapioca mixture from heat and stir 4-6 tablespoons of the hot tapioca mixture into the eggs (this is called "tempering" and will prevent eggs from curdling). Add/stir the egg mixture into the tapioca mixture...
Note: The above cooking times vary depending on how low the heat on your stove can be set.
~ Step 7. Stir in the vanilla extract and optional lemon oil. Allow to cool, in saucepan, uncovered another 15 minutes.
~ Step 8. Transfer to a serving bowl or portion into individual serving dishes. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight and serve chilled.
You will have 2 generous cups of luscious tapioca goodness:
Special Equipment List: small 1 1/2-2 quart saucepan; fork; large spoon
Creamy desserts are a weakness of mine and I have an ongoing love affair with another equally delicious comfort-food pudding, and this one comes from my husband Joe's side of the family!
You can find ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~ recipe in Categories 6, 12, or 21!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)