You won’t read about them in any text book, and the History Channel won’t be doing a documentary about them any time soon, but the Rice Pudding Wars terrorized a small family home in Edmonton, Alberta for many years during the 80s and 90s. The statistics will show that there were no fatalities, and injuries were minor (save some serious mental scarring and anguish), but the lasting repercussions of this ongoing struggle between the “Chosen One” and the “Other One” have failed to diminish through all the years and thousands of miles between them.
Rice pudding seems like a trivial thing to fight over, but this was no ordinary dessert on offer. The Americans among us will salivate, possibly, at the smell and sight of a good piece of apple pie, the hint of cinnamon wafting through the air on the heated tendrils that pull it away from the pie in playful undulations. Perhaps the sight of Vanilla ice cream, one fat scoop, slowly losing its shape as the warmth of the pie overcomes the cold crispness, and tiny rivers of white rain down into the bottom of the bowl soaking the thin crust into a soft mush. This was our apple pie.
My mom cooked just about every meal our family ate. And while she was no Julia Child, she could cook. Granted, she had a love affair with salt and we were so typically British in our blandness that the PC police were worried we would bring them hate mail because of our lack of vision in culinary delights. To say my mom had a fetish for all things “traditional” in the kitchen would be an understatement. But, a home cooked meal is a home cooked meal and I would be the last person to say no to one. Especially since mom always set aside two plates for me – one for dinner, and one for me to take to work the next day. Yes, you read that right.
I was always my mom’s favorite; her Golden Child, The Chosen One, the “can’t do anything wrong even if I’d done something wrong” child. I can’t explain it. That’s just the way it was and is. Hell, the running joke is that she’s still setting aside meals for me when the rest of the family is over for dinner. Naturally, this was hard for my sister’s to take. It affected Barbara, my younger sister, the most. Susan, my older sister, for the most part had gone by this time. She left when she had the chance. Barbara, 5 years younger than I was, was stuck in my overly large shadow (an ego blocks more sunlight than you would think) for many years, and was often the brunt of my attempts to impress people or be the bully older brother. I was a shit; I admit it. The second worst day of my life was when I realized I had been a complete asshole to her. Of course, this was many years later and we had both moved on from those crap teenage years, but still. The damage had been done I guess.
While I was a human garbage disposal, eating most of what my mom put in front of me (except that time she tried to fool us with something she called “liver steaks”. Barb and I saw right through that shit, didn’t we Barb?), Barbara was a little more, umm, refined, with what she would eat. To this day I can still hear her whine about having pork chops on her 16th birthday. I don’t know why she’s pissed at me about it. Susan had a big party for her 18th at one of the fanciest restaurants in town. I didn’t get any of that shit either. But I was mom’s favorite.
I learned to respect Barb’s ingenuity and distrust her all at the same time the first time she hauled off and punched me so hard in my package that William Wallace visited me that night in my dreams telling me I should have been disemboweled because it hurts less. I wasn’t dealing with a little sister anymore. I was dealing with someone smart, cunning, evil, and a whole shitload of vindictive. How could I not like this person? On a side note, Sue and I have always thought Barbara to be the smart one in the family and we’re not wrong. She is. And if she sticks with this blogging business I know she’ll succeed as only she can. She’s a cross between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Roseanne Barr – thankfully a cross the way you’d want to be crossed between those two. She has an opinion – she’ll tell you. I guess our family got the same lack of tact gene. Anyways, back to the Rice Pudding Wars.
After years of cooking for us my mom probably got fed up of it, especially since praise never came, and the food was just kind of there after a while. It was still good, don’t get me wrong, but you could tell she was just going through the motions about it. She’d work all day and then come home and cook. Pretty good deal for the rest of us when you think about it. Even our Sunday roasts became anticlimactic.
A British woman’s value is ascertained by her ability to cook a Sunday roast and here was Marilyn, our mom, completely treating this blessed event in our house of non-church goers as something she was forced to do. The Sunday roast was our altar. We thrived on its goodness and it replenished us after a hard week. If mom didn’t care about it, she didn’t care about us. Yes, we also have a history of melodrama and histrionics in my family as well.
Mom did, however, take pride in her rice pudding. No matter the state of the meal – potatoes boiled too much, lumpy gravy, beef cooked too dry because dad likes it that way – her rice pudding was always perfect. She didn’t need no fancy measuring cups either. One can of condensed milk, maybe a bit more left over from the week before, chuck in the rice, whatever else she decided to put in, sprinkle some cinnamon or nutmeg on top and bake. An hour and a bit later, she’d pull the glass dish out of the oven and we could see how puffy and fluffy the rice was through the sides, the milk on top had foamed and hardened, a thin layer of scum crusting over the top in a warm brown, the sweet smells of seasoning teasing us as she left it on the table until we ate our last sprout.
And when she removed the last plate, thereby ending the peace treaty between Barbara and myself, we were free to fight over the dessert as if it were the key to never ending life itself. I was the athlete of the family; although Barbara did have one good year playing softball (she was a pitcher and I helped her practice in our yard), so her initial speed caught me off guard. Her hand reacted first and she grabbed the serving spoon and scooped herself half of the pudding, draining nearly all of the warm milk into her bowl and peeling away the darkest and most flavorful portions of the crust for herself. I was resigned to sloppy seconds, the smile on my sister’s face making the Cheshire Cat look downright angry.
This became a bi-monthly conflict, a tête-à-tête that soon delved from cunning and sneakiness into brawn and brute force. I spent months re-honing my reflexes so when the truce was over I’d be first at the spoon. Barbara, in a most vile and treacherous way, prepared in her own way: she grabbed a second serving spoon from the drawer.
My spoon was met with the cold steel of hers. Glints of sparks rose into the air like lava spewing from Vesuvius. Our once delicate game of cat and mouse had escalated into armed combat, the ladle end of the spoon buried deep inside the pudding, the shafts handicapping each other and repelling the other spoon’s accent to freedom with a tasty prize. As sweat formed on our brows, our eyes bore into the bowl, seemingly burning through the dessert, the glass itself, and threatening to set alight the dainty lace tablecloth that mom reserved for Sunday. The bystanders, innocent in all of this, woe, there are always innocents affected by such brutality, could only cover their mouths in disbelief and fear. Fear that none of the pudding would flip onto the table and end life not in someone’s belly. The fury with which we sent each other’s attacks careening in defeat has only been matched once – when Inigo Montoya and Westley, masquerading as the Dread Pirate Roberts duelled, left-handed no less, on the top of the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride.
The Duel – After they both switched hands
And somehow, probably through my sheer strength and devilish good looks, I gained the upper hand until Barbara showed just how ugly she could become in the grips of our war. With her left hand she grabbed her own dessert spoon, sitting above her bowl just begging to be put to use, and she grasped the handle in her hand and chopped towards the back of my right hand, the hand holding my serving spoon. The cool metal stung like the fiery touch of a branding iron as it slapped against my bare and taut skin, sending an arc wave of pain throughout my lower arm. I tried to hold on to my serving spoon but alas, the vibrations ricocheting down my fingers were too much for me and I lost my grip, my spoon sinking slowly towards the side of the bowl, Barbara’s eyes wide with power and victory. Yes, she had won. But at what cost to her soul? Could she sleep at night knowing she had called upon an evil as foul as the most evil of things?
Of course she could. She had a belly full of mom’s rice pudding for fuck’s sake. And, she had put me in my place. Could she have had a better day?