Day 330 – National Tapioca Day

I’m certainly getting my share of pudding this week, as if you could ever have enough. But that’s how it goes. They give you chocolate pudding one day and tapioca the next. Today was National Tapioca Day, so technically it didn’t have to be pudding, but what else would you make with tapioca? It’s kind of made for pudding. It seemed like the most fitting was to celebrate.

Tapioca is actually a starch extracted from cassava root (that’s the yucca plant). The plants are native to Northern Brazil but their popularity spread throughout South America and Mexico. They are known to thrive in bad soil which makes them an easy root vegetable to grow, although they have no real nutritional value. It’s very starchy which is why they are often used as a thickening agent. To get to tapioca, the cassava is processed in the same way you would process wheat into flour. That’s why Tapioca Flour is a thing. The more common end product for tapioca is to be found in the form of small little pearls. That’s what they use to make the pudding.

The first time I ever bought tapioca pearls was for Lola to bake a pie. However, she would not bake the tapioca into the pie. She would just use it as a weight when baking the pie crust. When you bake a pie crust, you have to weigh down the dough so that it holds its shape and stays firmly nestled against the pie plate. They actually make weights for this – little beads made from metal or ceramics. However, most home cooks use more natural means to weight down the crust such as beans or in this case, tapioca pearls. This was a tip that Lola learned from when she started to learn about pie making. She actually learned about it from someone who is an accomplished pie maker who also happens to be a very successful author. Even though Lola learned the pie making from videos and articles made and written by her pie-tutor, she would eventually meet her in person and she would become an important mentor and guide to Lola on her writing journey. It’s kind of a neat story, but it’s Lola’s to tell so I will save it for her. However, whenever I see tapioca pearls, I think of the Pie Lady (as Lola’s sisters called her when we bumped into her randomly one night in downtown Portsmouth, NH).

If you look up recipes for tapioca, you get pudding. Apparently, that’s what you make with tapioca. I’m sure there are other things you can make with it. I don’t think the people of Brazil just sit around eating pudding all day. They have to use it in other things like teas, drinks or other baked goods. For my purposes however, the only recipes I could find were pudding related. To make tapioca pudding, you soak the pearls overnight and then you cook it with cream, eggs and sugar and let it simmer. It’s a bit more complicated than instant pudding, but not too hard. Either way, I had no time to make any of it. I was working all day and then heading from Warwick to Newport and working a shift at night. My tapioca would have to be store bought. I was ok with that.

While I was looking up Kozy Shack pudding the other day, I saw that tapioca is the all-star pudding flavor of their lineup along with rice pudding. That made me think that I should get their version for my celebration. However, I didn’t want to have the same celebration within 48 hours of each other. If anything, this quest demands a little bit of variety, especially if I am buying a pre-made product. Kozy Shack would be my back up plan, but I was hoping I could find something else at the supermarket. I ended up going to Tom’s Market in Tiverton. I had only been there once before and it was a nice little market with that same local feel of Clements (same price structure too). Yesterday, I just happened to be driving by (on route to my Zima adventure) so knowing that Tapioca Day was coming, I figured I should stop in just to see what they had. They have a big prepared foods section with fresh take-home meals and all kinds of breads, desserts, salads, meals and sides that they make in-house. I was in their cold food section for no less than thirty seconds and I saw a whole pint of their homemade tapioca pudding. The gods are good. I picked it up and was on my way.

My shift started at 5 and I left Warwick at about 3:45, so I only had a few minutes at home to change and eat something quick before heading over for my shift. I wasn’t hugely hungry at this point but I knew I needed some kind of sustenance to give me a boost to make it through the rest of the night. I also know that I needed to eat some tapioca, so it was the perfect mid-job meal. Well, I don’t know if it was the perfect meal – maybe if I had no teeth or something like that – but it was an ideal meal at the time considering what day it was. I spooned in a few mouthfuls as I was tying my shoes and making final preparations for work.

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I don’t think I had ever had tapioca pudding before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t dreading it. I mean it’s pudding, so unless it’s blood pudding, I knew it was going to be sweet and mushy. What surprised me were the tapioca pearls. I wasn’t expecting them to bring texture to the pudding, but they did. They don’t break down but they do get soft and easy to eat. They are like flavor bursts in every bite. The flavor was vanilla and I don’t think that was the tapioca, that was the pudding. But the tapioca brought this great texture into it all. It really took your average pudding and upped the game. It was really good. Tom’s Market makes some great products, at least the two times I have eaten some of their creations. It gave me the energy to make it through the night at work. It wasn’t a long night – I was home by 9:30, but I needed the sugar boost to get through. Then when I got home, I had more tapioca. It was a pudding kind of night.

Somedays I like to really see what I can do with a holiday. Some ingredients that we celebrate really lend themselves to all kinds of recipes and ideas. Tapioca didn’t really give me many options. That worked out for the best because I didn’t have much time to spare. But, I was able to try the most famous of tapioca products and I became an instant fan. I’ve eaten more pudding this year than I have in my entire life and tapioca is right up there with the best of them. I was always a little shy about tasting it. It seemed oddly old fashioned, like tutti-fruiti or Moxie, and I am always skeptical about old-fashioned (outdated) flavors. But when you are talking pudding, the tapioca brings texture which is  what pudding needs. So I learned to appreciate tapioca and that is a win in my book. Hopefully this is the end of my pudding run. I think I have had my fill, but I’m glad the pudding finale came with little pearls of flavor mixed throughout.

Next up: National Bomb Pop Day 

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