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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"


Are we having flan, yet?

by John Troesser

If no good deed goes unpunished and every silver lining needs a dark cloud, then every solution needs a problem. In this case the solution is pudding - the problem is chili.

While chili might easily come to mind as " the national dish" of Texas, have you ever noticed how hard it is to find a decent bowl of the stuff? Fast food chains have something homogenized, but for the most part chili is hard to find. The situation has become so bad that some desperate people have been seen scraping the sauce off chilidogs.

For the most part, chili in Texas has been appropriated by various festivals and cook-offs. These people eat so much of the stuff over one weekend that it takes a whole year before they can look at it again. They seem to have forgotten one important aspect of chili - hunger.

Chili, like the first oyster, took a very hungry person to get things started. All that was needed was something vaugely animal and enough moisture to get it down. Refinements came with time.

These chili people do a great job of raising money for a variety of charities, but do they have to have it in Terlingua every year? Terlingua fits the chili theme by being a ghost town (four out of five ghosts would eat chili - if they could eat) but it's hardly centrally located.

Wouldn't higher attendence mean more money?

A minor problem

Where are we to take foreign visitors or exchange students who are curious about real Texas cuisine? Do we ask them to wait for the fall to take them to Terlingua?

Exchange students can always be dropped off at Wendy's. As for foreign visitors, if they are "dignitaries" then take them to the president's farm at Crawford and see what the "western whitehouse" chefs serve up for chili. They can sit on the picnic tables behind the rustic barns the newspeople stand in front of.

If the foreign visitors are French, you don't have to bother. The French will automatically assume that you're keeping the chili from them because they're French and you don't want them to have any. And of course, they would be right.

So, now that chili has become somewhat seasonal, like red Christmas tamales, why even bother searching for it? It's always been on aisle forty-three, right next to the Vienna sausage (which is a sort of chili / pudding hybrid when you stop and think about it).

As for the canned chili debate - we won't even get into that.
The pot thickens …

John "Puddin'head" Gosselink, our man in Smithville, has dared to step forward and admit in print that he "loves the pudding." We worry about his choice of words since "The Pudding" suggests dependence, sort of like alcoholics "love the bottle" or how people in Louisiana say "I loves the hot sauce."

We have a strong suspicion that John received pudding in his youth as a reward for good behavior, deeds or grades. Maybe it was an experiment - like one of Pavlov's dogs with a sweet tooth. Mr. Gosselink has observed that when you make women mad "they won't make pudding for you." That's something we men need to remember from time to time.

John has actually used "backhoe and pudding" in the same sentence - a Wonka-esque image that has some lyricists considering changing the words to "Candy Man." Where's Sammy Davis Jr. when we really need him?

While pudding is thought by some to be too "sissified" to be a Texas official dish, there are some valid points in its favor.

Since pudding doesn't occur naturally, despite those tall tales of Pudding Canyon, Hot Pudding Springs and San Saba's Lost Pudding Mines, there is plenty of room to create a mystique about the stuff.

Unlike the somewhat troublesome chili that seems to require antique fire engines, trainloads of charcoal, cowboy garb and beer, pudding requires minimal preparation. There's still enough room to allow for variations and "secret recipes."

Pudding connoisseurs, unlike chili-eaters, don't rejoice at finding six-legged ingredients crawling up their spoons. Chili texture and color of chili has a protective, concealing (congealing) camouflage that puddings don't have. Vermin really stand out in pudding.

And while cows are involved in both dishes; with pudding the animal doesn't have to be totally involved - if you know what we mean. Dairy herds can actually see humans enjoy their contribution -if you happen to picnic next to a dairy herd. If you can find a dairy herd in Texas - pull up to the fence, roll down your windows and shout: "Thanks for the pudding!"

Don't feel embarrassed. John Gosselink does it all the time.

"Do me a flavor…"

Americans lean toward "safe" pudding flavors like vanilla and chocolate. But banana has gained in popularity. Beside compost heaps, there just isn't much use for rotten bananas. Americans also tend to leave condiments off their pudding - but once you've had ground nutmeg on rice pudding or cinnamon or caramel on flan, whoa, daddy!

Blood Pudding...it's not just for breakfast anymore!

Tastes in pudding can reflect national pride. The French couldn't claim inventing vanilla pudding, so they did the next best thing, they invented French vanilla pudding. The Germans have blood pudding - one that we needn't discuss further. Of course, BP isn't a dessert - it's an entree.

And every Scotsman or Scotswoman knows that nothing complements room-temperature haggis like a big cold lump of butterscotch pudding served in a chipped bowl.

Then there are those English puddings that Dickens wrote about - the ones that need to be hacked open with a chisel or set fire to - we aren't sure about those. They always appear in engravings looking like burned bundt cakes.

When was the last time you had a big bowl of pudding? "Well, podner, that's too long."

Those of us who were fortunate enough to have eaten in school cafeterias before microwaves and vending machines were installed can remember real cooked puddings. The kind with skin so thick that it resembled a mud-cracked west Texas riverbed.

So while there's still time and some of the white-clad, hair-netted women who used to cook those wondrous puddings are still with us, let us get them to divulge their recipes (we don't suggest measures beyond a little gentle arm-twisting). Your town can (with enough support for your legislator) become "The Pudding Capital of Texas."

(If Sanderson managed to become the "Cactus Capital of Texas" or Floresville, the Peanut Capital, believe us, you shouldn't have a problem with "Pudding Capital.")

As for the canned pudding debate - we won't discuss that either.

© John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" September 1, 2003

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