Puddings, puddings, puddings
We sat sequestered in the Sunday School room of the Charlemont Federated Church, three of us, twenty-seven glorious puddings set on the Sunday School tables, which had been covered with bright red and yellow Provincial table cloths for the occasion. For almost two hours, the puddings had been carried in through a light rain, cradled like newborns, the dishes, which ranged from elegant to earthy, cloaked in dishcloths or tin foil or snugged into Tupperware.
Many entries came from the nearby town of Hawley but some came from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont — this contest has legs! As they arrived, one after the other, the little room, which had been cleared of its scissors and library paste, Sunday School texts and crayons, filled with the smell of cinnamon, pumpkin, raspberries, vanilla — too many fragrances to totally identify. It all came down to: mouth watering.
We had come to judge the annual pudding contest, the heart of the Pudding Hollow Pudding Festival, the brainchild of Tinky Weisblat, a creative and humorous being about whom I wrote in the March/April 2009 issue of Yankee, The Queen of Pudding.
As a result of that article, Tinky asked me to return this year to be a judge of her famous contest. (The contest began in Pudding Hollow in the nearby town of Hawley, where Tinky lives, but it had become so popular, they had moved it to this bigger venue.)
The other judges there with me were Kathleen Wall, an official “culinarian” at Plimouth Plantation — she has judged the puddings for four years in a row so she had a decided mastery of the subject and of the process — and Michaelangelo Westcott, who runs a “French-inspired Bistro” called Gypsy Apple in nearby Shelburne Falls (everyone spoke of his establishment with reverence. I intend to try it next time I am in that area).
Michaelangelo arrived a bit late, having had trouble finding a parking spot in downtown Charlemont, which was buzzing with activity on this day of the Puddings. He entered as if from his own kitchen, dressed in his white chef’s coat, his name smartly embroidered on the pocket and, on his head, an interesting black cap, all if which served to give him a natty and professional appearance. In any case, he and I were both new to the puddings, new to the process, so we followed Kathleen’s charge in every way.
There were two categories, sweet and savory — all but five were sweet so the savory category seemed like the logical place to start our tasting. There were many pumpkin creations, the many entries making their own category, and she recommended ending with the chocolate entries since, “Once you taste the chocolate, that’s it for the rest of the day.” We nodded sagely.
Paper plates and spoons were distributed. The puddings stood smartly before us, an array of temptation — some in earthenware pots, some in crystal bowls, some in chafing dishes, some with their own bowl of whipped cream or secret sauce alongside. Each had a name: Cranberry Cover-up, Fruit of the Earth, Haddie-Leakie Bread Pudding, Three Fruit Cold but Cheerful Pudding, Persimmon Pudding, Shaker Rock Cream Pudding, Harvest Delight.
News photographers’ cameras flashed at us as we sank our spoons into the first of the day’s puddings, a savory entitled Indian Coconut Almond Rice Pudding, a dense and interesting mix of all those flavors. We loved it but did not end up giving it an award. There were so many puddings yet to sample.