Tapioca . . . I may not have grown up enjoying or craving it much (if ever), but in my maturing years, I’ve developed a liking to it. I’ll admit, I only ever tried the processed pre-packaged pudding cup version of it. It was a snack my mom always brought when we showed horses at 4-H State Fair and had to stay in a hotel all week. A homemade version was definitely not very practical to bring along on those kind of busy and exhausting trips. Now and then a little processed food makes us appreciate the real thing that much more.
Funny story . . . we recently went on our family vacation in California to visit my husband’s family as well as my brother and his husband. They live in northern California so we visited Lake Tahoe, Windsor (where my brother lives) and Sacramento (where my husband’s parents live). On one of the last days of our trip, we went to Funderland in Sacramento for a simple day out to entertain the kids. It’s a small and basic theme park that happens to have horses and ponies that you can ride or be led around on in a circle for a few bucks. So here’s the funny part—I led my three-year-old son, who told me as he rode his pony, “Mom, you never ride a horse.” I laughed to myself and replied, “Oh little do you know, I had three horses growing up. I started riding horses when I was six-years-old.” He was totally confused and surprised.
Somewhere along the lines, I failed to mention that fairly large part of my childhood to my kids. When I was a kid, I was a member of a 4-H group called “Deck of Stars” and we primarily showed horses. While seemingly every other kid my age slept in on summer mornings, I trudged half-awake up our steep backyard hill to the barn at 6 a.m. with my siblings to prep our horses for a morning of practice and training (cleaning out their hooves, brushing, saddling and bridling them and then training them for showmanship, pleasure and horsemanship patterns). Cleaning our horse’s stalls usually ended our practice and was never a favorite chore, but mandatory, of course. My older sister, Andrea, never wanted to deal with the stench, so she made an offer to clean and polish my saddle, bridle, boots and hat before horse shows in exchange to have me clean her horses’s stall. I gave into her request/trade because I didn’t like the tedious nature of those tasks. Funny how those trades and deals work between young siblings.
Despite my utter lack of “morning person” charm (still to this day), there was always something very enjoyable and relaxing about the peaceful morning air and hearing my horse neigh to greet me as I entered near the barn. I spent an inordinate amount of time with my favorite horse “Pepper.” Even when I didn’t have to train him in the arena, I’d saddle him up or ride him bareback out to the pasture on our feedlot. I may have been guilty of dressing up the poor guy to fit my pretend theme of “Little House on the Prairie” during the summer months. He died from old age when I was sixteen. Walking up to the barn was never the same again without hearing his greeting “neighs.” It’s those little things that made the otherwise tiresome early summer mornings miles merrier.
In response to my son’s statement, it made me realize how few facts kids know about their parents. We take so many opportunities to teach our children about so many things, but we often forget to tell them a bit of history related to their own family. So often those memories of that history is forgotten because we are guilty of never telling it in the first place. Maybe as the kids get older, we’ll get better at telling “our stories” either as examples for learned lessons or just for the sake of telling fun or funny times we had growing up.
Before I get carried away with story time, I’ll redirect myself and get back to the recipe for tapioca pudding . . .
My dad and older sister always loved tapioca. So this year, I decided to give it a whirl and make it myself. I looked at several recipes, but there were huge discrepancies between different recipes. Mainly the amount of sugar either seemed way to much or way too little. Even cooking methods differed greatly, but I found that the slow cooker seemed the most foolproof of the several methods. Also, depending on the recipe, pre-soaking the tapioca pearls either seemed imperative or completely unnecessary and could be compensated with longer cooking times. I vouched to presoak them just to be safe, and it was worth it. As usual I couldn’t follow one recipe exactly, so I compiled different positive qualities from a variety of recipes and found a balance in sugar by comparing the proportions of sugar to cream in my creme brûlée recipe that I’ve used for years. The result—creamy cool perfection without being too sweet or too blah.
I hope you’ll enjoy this old-time favorite (or I might add, my now-time favorite as an adult)!
SLOW COOKER TAPIOCA PUDDING
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
INACTIVE TIME: 8 to 12 hours (to presoak tapioca pearls)
COOK TIME: 2 hours 15 minutes
SERVES: 11 cocktail cups
- 1 cup large tapioca pearls
- 4 cups water
- 5 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 pinches of salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Optional: sliced strawberries and/or blueberries for garnish
Pre-soak tapioca pearls in water overnight or at least eight hours.
Strain soaked tapioca pearls gently so to keep the integrity of their shape. Place tapioca pearls in the slow cooker with whole milk, heavy cream, and salt. Set slow cooker to HIGH for 2 hours. Stir every 30 minutes.
After the two hours of cooking and thickening the tapioca and cream mixture, put the two yolks and 1 /4 cup of the sugar in a separate bowl. Whisk together. Now add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar to the hot cream mixture in the slow cooker and stir. Temper the yolks by ladling 1/2 cup (or so) of the hot cream mixture to the yolks while whisking constantly in order to prevent the yolks from scrambling. After adding about 3 additions of cream to the yolks, pour the yolk and cream combination back into the slow cooker and stir. Cook for 15 more minutes while stirring. Add vanilla and stir. Turn off slow cooker and let cool slightly. Then ladle into serving dishes. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow it to set up.
Recipe note: I like to serve the tapioca pudding in little plastic cocktail cups and cover in press ‘n’ seal wrap so that people grab them and head outside at summer get-togethers. It requires less structured schedules, which means less work for the host/hostess. As a result, people can have dessert when their stomach has enough room for it after big barbecues.