What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's crying with all her might and main,
And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
— Rice Pudding, A. A. Milne, 1924
Rice pudding appears to be one of those things we either love or loathe — with a passion.
It’s a dish that dates back to Roman times, according to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food — but was 'used only as medicine to settle upset stomachs.'
'I wonder how many people realise what an elaborate confection a rice pudding used to be?' asks Michael Smith in Fine English Cookery. 'It is certainly a far cry from the rather wet milk and rice product often served today.'
To me, rice pudding is pure comfort food, and I feel that there is more to it than the sloppy concoction once given to convalescents, and the elderly and young who were poorly.
On the contrary, a lovingly prepared rice pudding can be a fragrant, rich and creamy indulgence — flavoured with the best ingredients. Think orange blossom, rose water, and scented geranium — finished with a sprinkling of cinnamon, crushed pistachio nuts and dried rose petals.
This recipe is adapted from Riz Bi Haleb (rice, milk and memories) featured in a beautiful Middle Eastern cookery book,Yallateef!, by chef Marwa Makool. I was struck by the inclusion of 'mosquito geranium' or non-toxic scented geranium, which can be used in a variety of dishes.
My first encounter with scented geranium was when I was 'leaving home' after being married for 30+ years. There was a bush of it growing in the courtyard of the townhouse I bought for myself after the property split. That place was to become my sanctuary, where I could escape years of unhappiness from a marriage that had long been over.
I had organised for the property to be freshly painted inside and out, with new carpets and curtains installed, but it would be a few weeks before I could move in. All my belongings were packed in boxes in the 'family' home, and I really didn't want to be there any more. So, after work, I would ride my bike over to my little place, check on the progress of the renovations, chat with the neighbours, and water the gardens.
I found comfort in the sweet scent of the geranium, and would rub the leaves between my fingers, then bury my nose in my hands, drinking in the aroma.
I now grow scented geranium in pots in my courtyard at The Blue House and, every few days, I rub the leaves and take a sniff, just as a reminder of how far I've come.
To me that scent means new beginnings and freedom. Delicious! Oh, and I should add, it lends a lovely flavour to the pud.
RICE PUDDING WITH ORANGE BLOSSOM, ROSE WATER & SCENTED GERANIUM
1 litre full cream milk
1 cup short grain rice
1 cup vanilla infused caster sugar, less if preferred
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1 teaspoon rose water
3 sprigs of scented geranium, washed, tied*
4 tablespoons pistachio nuts, crushed lightly in a mortar and pestle
1 tablespoon dried rose petals
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold running water, drain. Pour the 750mls of water into a large saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil.
Add the rice, return the water to the boil, lower heat slightly and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring periodically with a wooden spoon.
Now add the milk to the mixture and bring it to the boil once more. Lower the heat and simmer for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the scented geranium sprigs, and allow the mixture to cook for two minutes longer, then REMOVE the sprigs and DISCARD them.
Stir in the caster sugar. Continue to simmer the rice pudding over a low heat, for five minutes or until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. In the last minute or two, stir in the orange blossom water and the rose water.
Remove the pan from the heat, allow the rice pudding to cool ever so slightly, then spoon it into a serving dish or dishes.
The pudding can be served hot, or if you prefer it can also be chilled in the refrigerator and served cold. Garnish with the crushed pistachios, dried rose petals and a sprinkling of cinnamon just before serving.
This quantity will serve 2-3 and can enjoyed as a dessert, or for breakfast.
Preparation and cooking time about 40 minutes, perhaps longer. If you plan to serve the rice pudding cold, cover it with cling film.
* Please ensure that you use the non-toxic variety of scented geranium. If you are at all unsure, ask for advice at your local garden centre or plant nursery.
Tell me dear readers, do you like rice pudding or do you loathe it? And is there a scent that has great meaning in your life? Do please share your stories with me. I love hearing from you xx
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.