My little, French Canadian grandmother was not a very good cook, at least according to my dad.
He'd complain that everything she made was overcooked or had no flavor. But being a little girl at the time, those were not necessarily culinary traits that I found distasteful.
Memere, as we called her, served several things that I enjoyed. In fact, it was at her table that I first tasted real butter.
My mom served margarine. She cooked with margarine. We spread margarine on our toast. There was no alternative. I'm sure it was a matter of finances. But after Memere served me a slice of bread slathered with real butter, well, from that point on, I was convinced that Memere was an amazing cook, no matter what my father said.
I remember her roast pork as particularly luscious, surrounded by potatoes that had soaked up all that porky richness during their many hours in the oven. So good. She also made pork pie — basically ground pork cooked slowly with some spices, then bread cubes or boiled potato is added to soak up the fat. Then that mix is baked in a pie shell. The fat from the pork inside bubbles out and over the pie crust, making it extra amazing. Heaven. Especially with ketchup.
But perhaps the best thing Memere made was her creamy pineapple rice pudding. My mother loved this even more than I did. Later, when I'd make it for her, she'd often polish off the whole batch.
This pudding couldn't be any simpler. Make some white rice, add sugar and crushed pineapple and let that sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, right before serving, whip up some cream and fold it into the pineapple-rice mixture. It's creamy and sweet, but a bit tangy from the pineapple, and with a nice chewy texture from the rice. It tastes like summer.
I think it's the approach of Father's Day that has set me thinking about my dad and his mother. I've been without them both for so long now. I realized recently that with my birthday this year, I've been alive longer without my dad than I was with him. But somehow, Memere's pudding brings them all right back to me.
Memere's Rice Pudding
1 cup white rice
1 cup sugar (I use ½ to ¾ cup and it's plenty sweet)
1 medium can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup (I don't know what a medium can is, and with all that sugar, no heavy syrup is needed, so I use 2 small cans of crushed pineapple in pineapple juice)
½ pint heavy cream
Cook the rice as you normally would or according to the package directions. While its still hot, add the sugar and the pineapple and its juice. Mix until combined, then put the mixture into the refrigerator and let it sit overnight.
In the morning, whip the cream, not too stiff, just enough so it will hold a soft shape. Then fold the cream into the pineapple-rice mixture. Serve right away, or just eat the whole batch yourself.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Her column appears in the times every other week. Send comments or share recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.