Let’s Be Clear About Tapioca Pudding

When you think of old-fashioned desserts like your grandmother made, Tapioca Pudding often is remembered. I know countless people who said “Oh my mother used to make that and I loved it.” But sadly, no one seems to make it anymore. People wanting a Tapioca fix might get one of the processed ready-made tapiocas in a cup. Yuck! Just like instant puddings, they bear no resemblance to the true dessert. Making Tapioca Pudding from scratch is so much better tasting and better for you!

I imagine tapioca pudding fell from grace because it takes some time to make it. I had some small pearl tapioca in the cupboard leftover from something so I thought I’d give this dessert a try. I went through my cook books and found that most recipes, even vintage recipes, called for minute tapioca. Some said you could use pearl tapioca interchangeably so I gave it a go.

But first, let me “get clear” about the history of tapioca pudding. Again, the internet is both good and bad on the subject. A quick glance might give you the idea that tapioca pudding was invented in Boston in 1894. One blog even screamed this headline – “Tapioca Pudding – Boston Born.” Here’s the story that you read on some sites on the internet:

“Our traditional American pudding recipe originated in Boston in 1894, in the home of housewife Susan Stavers. She was taking in boarders–one of whom was a sick sailor. Among his belongings were cassava roots carried home from a sea journey. To soothe and heal him, Stavers made the sailor a warm, sweet pudding from the roots, after grinding them in a coffee grinder. News of her comforting, sweet dessert spread and was picked up by a newspaper publisher, John Witman, who bought the rights to her process. The Minute Tapioca Company was started, and cooks have come up with their own variations of the sweet and creamy dessert ever since.”

My go to source for all things related to food history is the Food Timeline.

1913 ad for Minute Tapioca

There it points out that yes indeed, the Minute Tapioca Company was formed in 1894 in Boston. But rest assured, tapioca pudding has been around much longer. Minute Tapioca is just a more convenient form of tapioca because as its name implies it cooks much faster than pearl tapioca. It’s invention certainly helped the pudding become immensely popular in the first half of the 20th century.

Here’s the Food Timeline’s history of tapioca if you want to read more. There you will see that tapioca pudding was popular in England, not just America, and and early recipe appears in Mrs. Beaton’s Book of Household Management from 1861.

TAPIOCA PUDDING. 1370. INGREDIENTS.—3 oz. of tapioca, 1 quart of milk, 2 oz. of butter, 1/4 lb. of sugar, 4 eggs, flavouring of vanilla, grated lemon-rind, or bitter almonds. Mode.—Wash the tapioca, and let it stew gently in the milk by the side of the fire for 1/4 hour, occasionally stirring it; then let it cool a little; mix with it the butter, sugar, and eggs, which should be well beaten, and flavour with either of the above ingredients, putting in about 12 drops of the essence of almonds or vanilla, whichever is preferred. Butter a pie-dish, and line the edges with puff-paste; put in the pudding, and bake in a moderate oven for an hour. If the pudding is boiled, add a little more tapioca, and boil it in a buttered basin 1-1/2 hour. Time.—1 hour to bake, 1-1/2 hour to boil. Average cost, 1s. 2d. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time. TAPIOCA.—Tapioca is recommended to the convalescent, as being easy of digestion. It may be used in soup or broth, or mixed with milk or water, and butter. It is excellent food for either the healthy or sick, for the reason that it is so quickly digested without fatigue to the stomach.Read more at Celtnet: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/beeton-pudding-27.php
Copyright © celtnet
TAPIOCA PUDDING. 1370. INGREDIENTS.—3 oz. of tapioca, 1 quart of milk, 2 oz. of butter, 1/4 lb. of sugar, 4 eggs, flavouring of vanilla, grated lemon-rind, or bitter almonds. Mode.—Wash the tapioca, and let it stew gently in the milk by the side of the fire for 1/4 hour, occasionally stirring it; then let it cool a little; mix with it the butter, sugar, and eggs, which should be well beaten, and flavour with either of the above ingredients, putting in about 12 drops of the essence of almonds or vanilla, whichever is preferred. Butter a pie-dish, and line the edges with puff-paste; put in the pudding, and bake in a moderate oven for an hour. If the pudding is boiled, add a little more tapioca, and boil it in a buttered basin 1-1/2 hour. Time.—1 hour to bake, 1-1/2 hour to boil. Average cost, 1s. 2d. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time. TAPIOCA.—Tapioca is recommended to the convalescent, as being easy of digestion. It may be used in soup or broth, or mixed with milk or water, and butter. It is excellent food for either the healthy or sick, for the reason that it is so quickly digested without fatigue to the stomach.Read more at Celtnet: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/beeton-pudding-27.php
Copyright © celtnet
TAPIOCA PUDDING. 1370. INGREDIENTS.—3 oz. of tapioca, 1 quart of milk, 2 oz. of butter, 1/4 lb. of sugar, 4 eggs, flavouring of vanilla, grated lemon-rind, or bitter almonds. Mode.—Wash the tapioca, and let it stew gently in the milk by the side of the fire for 1/4 hour, occasionally stirring it; then let it cool a little; mix with it the butter, sugar, and eggs, which should be well beaten, and flavour with either of the above ingredients, putting in about 12 drops of the essence of almonds or vanilla, whichever is preferred. Butter a pie-dish, and line the edges with puff-paste; put in the pudding, and bake in a moderate oven for an hour. If the pudding is boiled, add a little more tapioca, and boil it in a buttered basin 1-1/2 hour. Time.—1 hour to bake, 1-1/2 hour to boil. Average cost, 1s. 2d. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time. TAPIOCA.—Tapioca is recommended to the convalescent, as being easy of digestion. It may be used in soup or broth, or mixed with milk or water, and butter. It is excellent food for either the healthy or sick, for the reason that it is so quickly digested without fatigue to the stomach.Read more at Celtnet: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/beeton-pudding-27.php
Copyright © celtnet

My cook books are filled with many variations of tapioca pudding so I had lots of options. But most of the recipes I was reviewing was for the Minute brand, which I didn’t have. So I sort of cobbled together a recipe for the Minute brand with my pearl tapioca. Disaster! I realize now that I didn’t let the tapioca cook long enough and it never gelled properly. (I ended up turning it into a very weird ice cream using our ice cream maker – also not something I’d really recommend).

Determined to make this work, I followed the directions on the back of the Tapioca bag. Truthfully, a basic tapioca pudding recipe is the same so even though I can’t say the recipe is “vintage” the process from scratch certainly was.

Yes, this way of making Tapioca Pudding is a bit more time consuming than cracking a lid on the pre-made stuff from the store – or even adding boiling water and stirring. But trust me, it’s worth it!

Tapioca Pudding

My nifty vintage double boiler

  • 1/2 cup small pearl Tapioca
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

In a bowl soak the tapioca in 2 cups of room temperature water overnight and then drain

In a double boiler, heat milk just until it’s no longer cold

Add salt and tapioca

Continue heating until small bubbles appear at the sides of the pan

Cover, turn heat to very low and cook for one hour

Make sure that the milk mixture does not simmer or boil

Separate the egg whites from the yolks

Beat egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow in color

Add a little of the hot mixture to the egg yolks and blend thoroughly

Then add the egg yolk mixture to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly

The pudding should get white and thick

Place the double boiler over medium heat and cook until the tapioca mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes

Beat egg whites until stiff

Slowly fold the hot tapioca mixture into the egg whites

Stir in vanilla

Serve warm or chilled

Makes 6-8 servings

While tapioca is not everyone’s cup of tea, Dan and I love this dessert! To us it’s very warm and homey tasting. And if you were turned off from tapioca as a child, you might just find you love it now as an adult.

Enjoy!

5 Responses to “Let’s Be Clear About Tapioca Pudding”

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  1. Vicki says:

    I will have to try this recipe – I love warm tapioca pudding with bananas and whipped cream. I have some small pearl tapioca but I was not at all happy with how my pudding turned out! This sounds much more like the tapioca I remember from my childhood. Thanks!

  2. Jeannine says:

    Problem is . . . I want to eat the whole pan while it is still warm. Comfort food as far as I am concerned! Don’t remember having it as a kid.

  3. Matt McCann says:

    I never found a pre-made tapioca pudding that held a candle to what I remembered from my youth so I started tinkering. Like you, the first approach was Minute brand. I didn’t care for the small pearls, and I found it tasted like vanilla pudding. So, I got a bag of Reece large pearl tapioca. The recipe on the bag looks exactly like the one above, except for an important asterisk (which I missed) saying to use less milk if using 2%. So the result was soupy, but the flavor is much improved. I think I’ll try again with whole milk.

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  1. [...] fritters, tamales, and empanadas, processed into starch and made into sago pearls for boba tea and tapioca for pudding, ground and dried for fufu, shredded and used in sweet desserts like cassava cake and singkong, and [...]

  2. [...] the 1900’s old-fashioned ball tapioca, and after that, Kraft Minute Tapioca® in a small red box.  Tapioca went on the market in 1894, and you can read the history of Minute [...]



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