I am just old enough to remember Bill Cosby as the Jell-O pudding man. Those joyful ads were effective! He would be seated at a kid-size table in a kid-size chair, nearly always in a colorful, crazy sweater, with his knees jutting up as he cavorted with what seemed to me to be very, very lucky children. He was like the ultimate dad or friendly uncle, smiling and enjoying smooth and creamy pudding with a group of smiling, happy kids. I wanted to be one of those happy kids; I wanted a cup of that chocolate pudding.
I didn’t grow up eating that premade cup of pudding he was promoting, which may be part of the reason I had such a hankering for it. It wasn’t that we were uber-elite about homemade foods only. In my family, the cakes and pies were always made from scratch, but in terms of convenience desserts, my family was actually more inclined to the ruby-colored, fruit-flavored gelatin versions. My grandfather called it “nervous pudding,” since it wiggled and jiggled.
My mother made chocolate pudding from scratch. And, Bill Cosby or not, there’s not much that’s more likely to put a smile on a kid’s face than a special treat of chocolate pudding. It’s even more special than a cookie, because store-bought can be pretty good, but homemade is so much better.
Every now and then, on very special days, Mama would make chocolate pudding after school. She still has the set of pressed-glass pudding cups she used when I was young. I remember my sister and I sitting impatiently at the kitchen island watching her measure the ingredients and then stir and stir. It would be just the three of us in the kitchen. Then, the magic would happen and the dark mixture would suddenly thicken. She’d pour the molten chocolate pudding into the clear cups with thick ruffled edges and put them into the refrigerator for the absolute eternity it seemed to take for them to set up. One child would get the whisk and the other the spatula to lick clean. As Mama cleaned up and once the pot cooled enough, she would let us swipe our little fingers against the side of the pan to get every last bit.
Then, the torturous wait began. We had our homework to do, and if not, we were sent outside so that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to ask, “Is it ready?” every five minutes. “Ready” was not yet. “Ready” was dessert. “Ready” was after supper. If, and only if, our plates were cleaned would the pudding cups be pulled out of the refrigerator. Mama would top them with a dollop of creamy white Cool Whip (see, I told you we weren’t uber-elite) and bring them to the table.
Those were special times I will always cherish; that is what down-home comfort is all about. Since it’s back-to-school time in many parts of the country, I thought it would be good to share my recipe for a little indulgent down-home comfort in a cup, smooth and creamy chocolate pudding.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Smooth and Creamy Chocolate Pudding
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.