My mother hated Rice Pudding

When my mother was small, her mother became quite ill while pregnant with her fourth child. It was the depression.  It was winter. They were struggling like nothing we will ever see. The family had been relocated again and again as Pa went from town to town looking for work.  So Grandma had landed in yet another house, in yet another strange town with three small children and one more on the way and no family or friends to call on.

Grandma told me part of this story and Mum told me the other part. I am not sure that they knew that the other had spoken of it. This was in the hard times.

Pa was working. Maybe rabbiting I am not sure. He was away for weeks at a time. My grandmother, pregnant, became very ill and the doctor sent her immediately to the hospital. The children, my mother and her two brothers, were taken to a Catholic orphanage. As I understand it this was only for a few days, maybe a week.  Imagine the fury of Grandma when she recovered and found her children had been stashed in an orphanage by the priest, in the absence of her husband. But there was no-where else for them to go, until one of the Aunties could get there.

Mum told me that the children all ate in a large dining room. The girls on one side and the boys on the other. One night rice pudding was served. Mum refused to eat hers. Just refused. It was winter dark and cold in the big room. I do not know why, I am not even sure how old she was(maybe 5 or 6) but she was a little girl who hated rice and she had run to the end of her tether. She just said No. Thank you.

A battle of wills ensued between this little woolly headed child and the Sister in charge of the dining hall.  All the children silently ate their pudding as Mum sat solidly on her bench with her arms folded and her mouth closed. Her brothers across the room ate quickly and watched with rising horror as their sister got deeper and deeper into trouble. The nun in charge announced that she would have to just sit there until she had eaten her rice pudding all up. She was not allowed to leave the dining hall until her bowl was empty.

The wee girl locked eyes with her brothers across the room as they were led away in a line to wash and then into bed in the dormitories on the next floor.   She sat  in her long socks and slippers, a woolen skirt and shirt topped with a thin hand-knitted cardigan buttoned to her chin. It was cold. It was always cold there.

She sat up straight on her bench in this  enormous drafty wood lined room, high ceilings, long windows. The tables were cleared and wiped by the older orphan girls and soon she was all alone. Her arms still folded, her mouth still shut. Slowly lights went out in the far reaches of the room and yet still she sat. The nun moved in and out checking on her. Cold began to creep up her legs and into her back. But the little girl did not move.

The door where she had last seen her brothers, opened ever so slowly. She saw a shadow like a big cat creep through the door and drop to the floor. Her eyes whipped to the kitchen doors,  she could hear the murmur of the Nuns. The room was empty. The dark shape scuttled across the floor and under the seats. It was only a shadow. But she knew it was her brother.

The Nun pushed open the kitchen door, releasing a shaft of light into the room and peered down the room at Mary. Mary turned and glared back. The Nun, probably wishing she had never begun this, wordlessly retreated back to the well lit kitchen. The light shrank back to a small puddle around the girl.

Mary’s little brother  had appeared at her feet under the table, his eyes huge in his face, he held out his grubby hands. She quickly handed down the untouched bowl of rice pudding. He started to dig in with his fingers. No, she said, use the spoon. She handed it to him. Within seconds the bowl was empty and returned to the table.  Her little brother smiled and wiped his nose with a small sniff. She handed him her napkin.  Now go, she said. Resting her hand on his head for a second.  After a quick smearing swipe,  he scuttled back into the dark, returning to his shadow shape then slipped out of the room.

She sat a while longer with her empty bowl. Then she took her dish and  spoon to the scullery window and was escorted gently up to her dormitory filled with sleeping strangers  and tucked into bed.

As long as I knew my Mother she never ate or made rice pudding. So this is not her recipe. I may have got it from Grandma but I have been making it for so long it’s origins have drifted into the mists of time. I love it.

Rice Pudding

Cover the bottom of your dish with  rice. Sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar or honey, and a few sultanas. Half fill the dish with milk and cream, cook slowly in a moderate oven, for about 45 minutes. Be careful not to over cook as it will keep drying out after you have lifted it from the oven.  (I added some home made apple sauce today).


84 Comments on “My mother hated Rice Pudding

    • So do I ViV, I never understood why Mum decided to make a stand about it. It tastes so good, but maybe the one in the orphanage was icky.. I love it c

  1. So wonderful to read about your Mum and Grandma and their stories! It shows how strength and determination have been passed down to you!
    And the rice pudding recipe looks and sounds delicious!!!

  2. Your mother was strong and proud and they couldn´t take that away from her. I´m glad it´s your beautiful recipe and not hers – I´m glad becuase she never had to eat or make something she didn´t like and that bought back bad memories for her.

    • She never made it and she made no bones about hating it. She went on to a boarding school too so i imagine there was lots of rice pudding she ignored there as well! c

    • I love rice pudding too, Charlotte. Todays was very tasty. Remember to watch it at the end so that it stays creamy. c

  3. I was transported today, c and I must thank you for that… I always love a good story. This one was particularly touching because it was a true one. I love your grandmother’s courage, your mother’s bravery and her brother’s act of love:) This is a true Christmas tale… maybe a great children’s book?? The kind that make me cry..

    • It does sound christmassy doesn’t it i never thought of it that way, i should write it up properly one day.. well i will write them all up one day! c

  4. Nicely told story. I remember my wife Jenny recounting a similar encounter which she had with a plate of liver – luckily this was at a day school where time was on her side.

    • Ah yes, they could not make her sit there all night. She would have been saved by the bell! people either love liver or hate it! c

  5. A touching story, Celi, and a testament to your Mother’s resolve. My Mom was well into her 50’s before she would eat polenta. WIth so little money during the Depression, polenta was a mainstay of their diet and Mom vowed never to eat it again once given a choice. We are blessed to come from such hardy stock!

    • Maybe that was why, maybe she just never wanted to see another spoonful of the stuff ever again. Just like your mother. I cannot imagine Grandma letting her get away with that kind of behaviour at home. We have come from hardy stock though haven’t we.. thanks john.. c

    • It does have many levels and though this only skims the top of the story I had to collect the facts from both my mother and her mother.. and noone remembers anything the same way. c

  6. Your poor grandmother, and how frightening for your mother and her siblings. It must have been brutally hard times. Thanks for the read, but I’m with your mum, I can’t stand sweet rice pudding either, unless the rice is black and laced with coconut milk.. 🙂

    • Ohhh, you’re right, Celia, I’ve had it at Thai restaurants, usually under the name Forbidden Rice (and it kind of looks like blackberries have been cooked down in the coconut milk because of the rice color). SO tasty.

  7. I know celia, your heart goes out to the poor wee sods.. and oh my goodness that sounds like a very interesting take on rice pud… do you have that recipe or can I make it up.. though i have never seen black rice, i would need to find some.. fascinating take on an old classic.. c

  8. What a sad story; your mother as a young child alone in that cold room. I am not surprised she never ate or made rice pudding after that episode. I on the other hand adore rice pudding.

    • It really is a sad story. Though the way Mum told it did not seem sad. She was more irate that they tried to make her eat something she hated.. c

  9. What a powerful and moving story of the love between siblings. It makes me think of all the children who lived in an orphanage 15 miles from my home and the stories I’ve read about the abuse they endured. It simply breaks my heart.

    • I don’t think Mum suffered from abuse, I just think she was a stroppy determined naughty little girl who hated rice pudding but the poor things must have been so confused and scared. c

  10. Oh my, I was totally captured by that story,very Oliver Twistish :-). Beautifully written, Cecilia, as always. I love rice pudding, too, best winter delish, if you ask me!

  11. Such a moving story Cecilia. I have tears and it makes me so fiercely proud to read what my Dad did for his sister, your Mum. I am going to tell my class this story and then make the recipe for them. I love the idea of it being created into a children’s book. I witness a great deal of hardships as my husband and I teach aboriginal children in a remote community in the Northern Territory, Australia. They endure tough times, not quite so cold; food (tucker, or “ducker’) and love is what they crave. Keep them coming C. Love Maria

    • What a wonderful idea to make the pudding for your kids. And awesome that you will read it to them. That is just wonderful. The story was funny to put together because grandma and mum were telling it from different perspectives, I wonder if your Dad remembers he would have been quite young.. There are other Mum stories, I will email you the links to them, your own kids might like a few of them too. Scroll down and look for ‘the day I melted my mothers tea pot Part one and two’.. that was a funny day.. love love fearless cousin. c

  12. This is so beautifully written I felt as though I was there and wanted to shiver with the cold. I cheered for the little boy braving the nuns to rescue his sister. 🙂

    I was wondering, after seeing your post title, when I last had rice pudding. I didn’t like it as a child. It was my version of turnips. My mother hated turnips because her mother frequently added them to the mashed potatoes because turnips were cheaper than potatoes, and meals had to be stretched as far as they could go in those days. Often there were more turnips than potatoes in the mashed. Mom loved rice pudding, though, and made it all too often as far as I was concerned, but it really wasn’t that often. It usually showed up when when Mom was stretching the budget as far it could go and still provide us with a dessert. I think I’ll give rice pudding another go. I might like it.

    • It is a really good and reasonably healthy way to stretch the budget. I remember turnips.. are they the same as swedes?, every country has different names for everything. My Mum used to call those Cattle Fodder!! But i love parsnips and carrots mashed together and i had fogotton about those so thank you for the memory trigger Robin! c

  13. My dad’s nemesis was not rice pudding, but mutton stew, and you can imagine exactly what THAT was like after an hour or two of his intransigence!! 🙂

    I love your version of how to prepare the pudding: worlds simpler to fix than any other recipes I’ve seen for it, so you can bet next time I go in that direction this is the one I’ll make!! Thanks! In our household, the version was an old Norwegian treat called *risengrøt* (rice pudding), or around our house, *Julegrøt* (Christmas pudding, ’cause that’s the only time we had it), which was made more like a sweet risotto, cooked slowly on the stovetop with a massive amount of milk/cream and served warm with butter and cinnamon sugar and one blanched whole almond in the pot for the lucky finder. A mighty tasty version too, but a nuisance to make, if you ask me, by comparison to yours! I’ll probably skip the sultanas (not a big raisin fan) and put in candied ginger or just pretty applesauce like you did, though, if you permit. 🙂 Still, if a bowl of your creamy rice pudding was placed in front of me, I’d eat it willingly, sultanas and all, not needing to prove a point by wasting such deliciousness!!

    • Wow, rice pudding risotto, that sounds divine, mine is the lazy way and you do not even need the sultanas, just the rice, milk and sugar. Sometimes I add a dash of baileys to the bowl after I have served it.. oh the naughtiness! c

  14. Okay I’ll be honest here and say I don’t know about this…but it does interest me. Wondering about the “tapioca pudding similarity”? I figure if you make and like it, it should be good, but I seem to have a “heebie jeebie” feeling about it.
    So to show I am thinking about it…what about using/adding brown sugar and how thick of a layer of rice? Slow cook it???? Need a temperature.
    Sorry C, I can be a bit dense sometimes. 🙂 I didn’t have a good end to the week. May have gotten denser. I know it’s more dense…denser just seemed appropriate there.

    • That is fine Harold. One thin layer of rice. Just to cover the floor of the dish. Not a thick layer at all and then about 2 inches of milk. The rice doubles and the milk reduces. There is no reason why you can’t use brown sugar, about a tablespoon. Then into the oven at 325 for about 45 minutes, then scoop out a wee bit to see if the rice is cooked and if it is nice and creamy you can take it out. If your kids don’t like raisins you can omit them too, just add a wee bit more sugar or honey to compensate.. I think the kids will love it. let me know how it goes. It is cheap and good, especially if you use honey instead of sugar, then it is really good food.. c

    • Oh you AND Tandy.. is it a club?..well you guys make plenty of yummy things to eat I am sure you are not missing out! c

  15. Your poor grandmother and mother C! I can’t say I have ever heard a good story about a nun!
    I too love rice pudding and what a great idea about adding the apple sauce.
    🙂 Mandy

    • Well i grew up with the nuns too and some of the ones who taught me were brilliant independent ladies. Some not so much. I guess they chose a hard life for themselves.. I am fairly sure the Nun who started this battle with Mum wished she had not got into it. My Dad used to say “Pick your battles” she picked the wrong one.. c

    • It is so simple Kay, you can just pop it in the oven when you get home from work and an hour later you will have a lovely hot dessert to nibble on.. My kids loved to have hot chocolate with it and I know you like Hot Chocolate!

  16. That is a heart touching story C
    I can see where you get your strong spirits from. Thank you for sharing the recipe and the story

    • You are very welcome. Food and stories are inexplicably mixed in my history. Scents often bring back stories, I am sure that you have old stories that go with some of your dishes too.. c

  17. When my two boys were in an orphanage in Korea, the nuns there weren’t so kind-hearted. They’d tell the children that ghosts walked the building at night so that the children would stay in their beds. My youngest was terrified of the night for years after that. But I’ll tell you what, Celi, my boys still love rice in any form whatsoever, and I think they’d probably eat rice pudding without any problem. Lovely story, and as always told to perfection. 🙂

    • Oh No poor little fella, at home they tell the kids that there is a Taniwha (monster) in the deeper pools in the rivers to keep kids from swimming in the dangerous areas, poor kids..c

  18. When I went to Catholic school rice pudding showed up quite often for lunch. Being the impressionable little girl that I was, when one of the boys in my first grade class told us they put fish eyes in the pudding I never tried it! Perhaps I will make YOUR recipe and experience rice pudding as it should be! I always enjoy the way you tell a story!

  19. What an amazingly vivid story. My grandmother has told many stories of the depression; the times then colored the rest of her life. I appreciate things more because of her struggle and am grateful.

    • It is true that those times became a benchmark for many things as they got older. And even now when people are saying how hard they have it I cannot help but think about the old days and those stories.. c

  20. This story touched my heart dear Cecilia, I can almost imagine this little girl. How it’s being so impressive and unforgetable in a small one’s mind. You expressed so nicely, Thank you dear Cecilia. In my food culture we have rice pudding, but we don’t make like that. Later I can share maybe, even I can cook. It’s been for a long time I didn’t make. Have a nice day, with my love, nia

    • I would love you to share some of your cooking with us Nia, maybe you could start with your rice dessert! c

  21. Touching story and something to truly think about during this holiday season of abundance. Making rice pudding in the oven is something I’ve not heard of; sounds so much easier than constant stirring!

  22. Oh, I just want to cheer for your mum and her spirit! She must have grown to be an amazing woman. I have never had rice pudding, but you’ve inspired me (again) to make a batch for my crew. I’ll go easy on anyone who refuses to eat it 😉

    • It is so easy to make and perfect for kids. When my kids refused to eat anything, well actually before they refused, I would pay them to try stuff and they would get an extra ten cents or something if they pretended to like it! but that was just for fun.. c

  23. I’m not going to lie…rice pudding, bread pudding or pudding in general is not my thing. Of course Liz loves it and it must be present in our household from time to time. 😉

    • fair enough Jed, I always suspected that Liz was the sweet one in your household. I have you pegged as the carnivorous one.. !

  24. I’m with your mom! The first time I ever had rice pudding I was 22 years old and someone served it for Thanksgiving. I had zero experience of it so I assumed it was a savory dish. I took my helping and, as the meal progressed, had my first bite. I almost – then and there at the dining table filled with people I barely knew – spat it out. ALMOST…but I managed to swallow it. Let me tell you, when you’re expecting savory and you get sweet, it’s a bit of a shock. I have never had any since. 🙂

    Oh, and I love the sweetness of your uncle for his sister!!!!

  25. I remember many occasion sitting at the table because I refused to eat something, usually Brussel sprouts, fried spam or fried egg. I would have to sit there till everyone had gone, luckily we had a big German Shepherd and he usually helped eat the left overs. I’m sure my Mum knew but her will would not bend to mine but she wasn’t mean enough not to pretend the dog was getting leftovers :o) I do love rice pudding though!

    • sometimes a mother has to take a compromise just so that She can go to bed. I bet you would have sat there all night otherwise! i would not eat fried spam either, in fact I don’t believe i ever have.. and as for brussel sprouts, i have yet to meet a child who likes them.. Have a great day Allison.. c

  26. I did not go to a Catholic school nor was I raised Catholic. But I had my tonsils out at 5 in a Catholic hospital, and lordy I remember hiding under a table for fear of the nuns! And if that hadn’t done it, my dad’s stories of his upbringing in a Catholic orphanage would have done it. Celiamama, I feel for ya. 🙁

    Still, I love rice pudding, and make it whenever the mood strikes. Brown rice, black rice – coconut milk, mmmmm …. 😀

    • i have learnt a lot about rice pudding after writing this post and you poor wee thing hiding under the bed! c

  27. Hi Cecilia. It must have been incredibly hard for your mum and her family at that time. For a lot of other people as well I should imagine. Beautifully written and a great read.
    I love rice pudding. Going to give your recipe a go.
    Regards Florence x

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