Thoroughly Modern Tapioca

My sister Cindy was a beauty, and a tremendous baton twirler as well, but for a county-level Miss Mississippi preliminary, my mother (a formidable woman who loved her children) decided that Cindy should forego twirling—which Mom considered trashy—and dance to the title tune from Thoroughly Modern Millie instead.

Cindy practiced her heart out, wore a really cute pink flapper outfit with a white feather and a ruby garter belt, but she placed first runner-up to a girl who belted out “Stand By Your Man” with such fury that the windows of the Calhoun City school gym rattled. The new Miss Calhoun County–who didn’t even make top 20 at finals–also attended MSU; Cindy was enrolled at Ole Miss.

Later in the lobby, my Mother, in a pronounced state of righteous indignation, observed quite audibly that three of the five judges were State alums.

Cindy gave up competitions, but after hours of watching her rehearse, I ended up memorizing the soundtrack to Thoroughly Modern Millie, including a tune called “The Tapioca”. For the past thirty years (or so) this song was the closest I ever got to actually eating tapioca, but recently I’ve had a bee in my bonnet over it, and nothing else would do except for me to cook me some tapioca and eat it. Call it mental floss.

Tapioca isn’t something you typically find in Southern supermarkets; the only place I could find it was at Mr. Chen’s. You can get anything from Mr. Chen. Even frogs.

Nobody cooks tapioca exactly the same way. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the pudding needed to be cooked at an even heat. I soaked a cup of large pearls in two cups of water overnight. In the morning they looked very much like cottage cheese. I put the drained tapioca in a heavy pot on a flame-buster over a low flame with four cups whole milk and one cup whole cream.

After two hours of occasional stirring, the tapioca had thickened considerably. I beat a whole egg with three egg yolks, tempered it into the mixture by adding warm tapioca to the eggs bit by bit until it could be added without curdling. When well-blended, I stirred in a half cup of sugar with a tablespoon of vanilla and let it sit a bit before serving

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