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Tapioca Pudding

At school in the UK we called it "frog spawn"; its real name is tapioca. But what in heaven's name is it?

I can well remember the steaming cauldrons in the kitchen at my grammar school over 'ome. Students didn't have many kind words to say about the stalwart ladies who prepared our daily hot lunches. Looking back on it now, school dinners weren't all that bad really - except for the tapioca pudding. Somehow, the ladies in white aprons and neat white kitchen hats managed to achieve a consistent lumpiness in their tapioca, or rice, puddings that made them quite unpalatable.

Let's step back from childhood memories for a moment and answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post: "what is tapioca?"

Tapioca is a starch derived from the root of the Cassava plant. Cassava is a plant grown in hot countries in Central and South America, Africa, the West and East Indies. It has no significant nutritional value other than as a source of starch.

You can buy tapioca in powder or flake forms for use as a thickening agent for soups and stews. If you want to make traditional style tapioca pudding you will need to find "pearl tapioca". Tapioca pearls are opaque but take on a translucent appearance when cooked (resembling frog spawn - hence its nickname among English schoolboys).

Prepared in a high school kitchen sized cauldron, tapioca pudding will indeed have a tendency to become lumpy. Its inherent starchiness lends itself to forming lumps very easily. Tapioca pudding can be prepared thick and sticky, or milky and runny according to individual preferences. Either way, great care has to be taken to prevent lumps forming.

The simplest way to prepare tapioca pudding is simply to mix pearl tapioca, sugar and milk in a deep oven-proof dish and bake it in a hot oven for a couple of hours. The result is likely to resemble the contents of a cauldron in a high school kitchen. If you prefer a smooth, creamy, tasty tapioca pudding, follow the recipe published in this week's Blighty's British Recipes newsletter.

By the way, if you find yourself in a tropical country and are tempted to buy some Cassava root at a local market, beware, it is toxic in its raw form. If you want to be really safe and you would like to try tapioca pudding you can usually pick up a can of Ambrosia Tapioca Pudding at Blighty's Tuck Store - but that would be cheating.

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