Whenever we have some food leftover after cooking and eating, my wife Gina never puts it into the refrigerator until is completely cool. This drives me crazy. I tell her that she should put the food into the refrigerator right away and let it cool there to avoid giving bacteria a chance to grow. She tells me that her mother Carmelita always told her that she should never, ever put warm things into the refrigerator. I asked Carmelita about this and she told me that her mother taught her the same thing. This is incredible because almost fifty years ago in another country and two thousand miles from Irapuato where I now live my mother and I had the same discussion. The reason that the matter came up was on account of chocolate pudding. In those days we made chocolate pudding on the stove. We put some milk in a pan and then added the chocolate pudding mix. Royal Pudding & Pie Filling was our favorite brand. Most American style puddings used some kind of thickener in the form of a starch. The first pudding thickener was Alfred Bird’s cornflour-based custard powder. Traditional English custards used eggs but Alfred’s wife Elizabeth was allergic to eggs so he developed the custard powder just for her. He was also one of the first developers of baking powder because Elizabeth was allergic to yeast. Alfred Bird must have been a really nice man and his wife must have been a very lucky woman to have such a smart cookie around. Later puddings used arrowroot, tapioca (cassava root), or potato starch, etc. In any case, with starch you had to be careful to avoid heating the pudding too much. When the pudding first started to bubble is when you were supposed to remove it from the heat. Royal Pudding used arrowroot which is very sensitive to excessive heat. I can still remember the Royal Pudding jingle:
It’s the finest one.
When you see the very first bubble,
It’s done, done, done."
The thing is that I really liked the thick skin that formed on top of the pudding when it cooled. To make a really good thick skin you needed to chill the pudding thoroughly and quickly. My mother would never let me put the pudding into the refrigerator to let it cool so I only ate pudding in the winter time when it was cold in Chicago. I would stir the package into the pan of milk heating on the stove and then watch for the first bubble. Then I would pour the heavenly smelling mixture into a glass bowl and set it out on the back porch to cool. Oh, how I loved that pudding! My sister Suzy didn’t like the pudding skin and so I always tried to be nice to her so I could have hers too. I know that I am not alone in this. I suspect that there are a lot of secret pudding skin lovers out there who just won’t admit it.
Anyway, back to my Ma. She overheard me asking my Dad why she was so adamant about not putting warm things in the refrigerator. He started to tell me that he thought it came from a World War II effort to save energy. My Ma interrupted and told us that this practice pre-dated the war and that her mother taught her to never, ever put warm things in the refrigerator. Finally I asked my Aunt Loretta about because she was a few years older than Ma. Aunt Loretta just laughed and said it was because in those days they had an ice box instead of a refrigerator and if you put warm things in the ice box it would melt the ice. I tried to talk to Ma about this but she would have none of it. Her mother told her not to do it and that was that. Same thing with Gina and Carmelita. If Abuelita (grandma) told them not to do it then that is the law. You know what? I decided that when the women are not around I am going to put warm things in the refrigerator anyhow…and to Hell with it!