Strawberry Tapioca

In 1951, 1.5 million pounds of tapioca spilled into the East River when a dock holding a consignment from Brazil collapsed in the earlier dawn hours. (The headline in The Times: “Tapioca à la East River. ”)

It wasn’t the best moment that the flavorless pudding home — the gunpowder or granular “pearls” of dried cassava origin — made headlines. Before World War II, all of the tapioca that Americans consumed came from Java; once the Japanese invaded the island, the supply was reduce away. The Times’s nutrient reporters treated lists of insufficient wartime ingredients like those of casualties and kept good tabs on the tapioca position. In the interim, General Foods came upward with a replacement made from sorghum, called Minute Dessert, which The Times declared a satisfactory but scarcely perfect replacement. To pudding makers across America, alleviation came at last in 1947, when the United States began importing tapioca from Brazil. Thus the play on the dock.

Today, tapioca pudding normally means a thick mix of tapioca pearls, milk, bread and vanilla. But before and after the warfare, one of the almost abiding ways to ready tapioca was a mix of the pearls (cooked in water or fruit juice) and sweet fruit, served with whipped ointment. There are recipes for this in The Times going backwards to 1876.

In 1949, the peculiarly named Strawberry Tapioca Flamingo appeared in the newspaper. It built on the new recipe by making one bed with half of the tapioca-and-fruit mix and a second bed by combining the remainder with whipped ointment. (If you’ve always had Jell-O fluff, you’ll realize how a household of desserts can originate and so be corrupted. ) It’s a tasty combination and pretty overly, with bits of strawberry suspended in the clear-cut pink gelatin and a poof of ointment and jelly on best. It’s then better that the editors obviously couldn’t reject running the same recipe again two years subsequently when there was a document strawberry crop.

The Times recipe appears to get been “borrowed” (with insignificant improvements) from one that appeared in a pamphlet place away by the Minute Tapioca Company in 1931. I learned this from the consumer historian Jan Whitaker on one of my favourite sources, the Association for the Study of Food and Society’s Internet mailing listing, where you can have personalized answers to questions about anything from the culinary uses of bosom milk (formerly a warm subject) to the healing properties of rambutans. There was more conjecture among the experts on the place about the “flamingo” region of the recipe: since the sweet is truly from the 1930s, it would appear to get been a forerunner to the flamingo cocktails favorite in the 1940s, as easily as to the lawn flamingo invented — as every schoolchild knows — in 1957.

I asked Michael Laiskonis, the executive pastry chef at Le Bernardin, to offer the Strawberry Tapioca Flamingo a contemporary version. He had a plenty of ideas. The sweet reminded him of trifle, then he pondered turning it into a more appropriate trifle, garnished with tapioca. He considered a vacherin surrounded by a sauce of tapioca and coconut milk. Finally he settled on a brilliantly flavored strawberry-and-basil soda, in which big tapioca pearls ricochet around the side of a lanky glass while a baseball of strawberry sherbet hovers above them. His introduction took the flamingo farther into both the past and the existing. The quick-cooking tapioca used in the 1949 recipe was a modernization of the long-cooking pearls. And the long-cooking pearls are now backwards in vogue, almost usually as the basis of bubble teas. Tapioca may never get the following it did when it was insufficient, but now it has manner.

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