Best Cook: The Queen of Pudding
Tinky Weisblat is sitting at her kitchen table, piled high with recipes and ingredients. With a wooden spoon, she’s creaming butter, eggs, and sugar. At the moment, the house smells of pudding, as she hurries to complete the recipes that have come in for her annual pudding contest.
She’s held this event every year for the past five years, and every year she’s amazed by the concoctions people come up with.
“We always get the chocolate and the bread, but then there are all these other recipes,” she says. She lists a few: “Tropical Fruit Rice Pudding,” “Toasted Indian Pudding,” “Hushpuppy Pudding.”
Tinky (nee Barbara, but “no one ever called me that, not even once”) lives in Pudding Hollow, a place that got its name because back in the 1770s, a pudding contest took place, right here, in the hollow, which is part of the town of Hawley, Massachusetts (population 336, or thereabouts). The contest was a runoff between two quarreling cooks, with the winner’s hasty pudding made in a “five-pail kettle”: enough to feed the whole town. That, Tinky says, is about the sum total of Hawley’s town history, which boasts no battles, no famous people. Just this pudding contest.
A few years ago, Tinky published The Pudding Hollow Cookbook. She printed 5,000 copies, which she stashed in her garage. Struck by the urgency of selling them (winter was coming and her attic couldn’t bear the weight of those boxes), she brainstormed with a friend, who suggested that she stage a contest to promote the book. And so the contest and its accompanying pageant began–and they’ve been growing ever bigger ever since.
A knock on the door brings Alice Parker, a neighbor and composer. She’s here to rehearse the song she’s written for the contest’s skit. Tinky tucks the pudding into the oven, and we troop into the living room. With Alice at the piano, Tinky lets loose with “Give Me a Man I Can Cook For,” which brings down the house, such as it is.
Tinky’s mother, Jan, lives with her, and the two of them cook for each other and for their neighbors. “A lot of good food has passed over this table,” Jan reports, patting it with affection. But the song and its humorous lyrics have resonance nonetheless. Tinky pulls the pudding, in its red, heart-shaped pan, out of the oven. A sweet maple aroma fills the room. “Oh, yes!” she says, placing the steaming pudding on the table. “This one’s just right!”